All across America, horses are revered as cultural icons who helped us navigate our cities and settle the West. They are loyal companions and partners in recreation and sport. It’s no different in Iowa, where we fawn over show ponies, cheer on race horses and rely on farm horses to work our land.
Nowhere in our country’s narrative have horses ever been considered dinner.
But the blood of slaughtered American horses could soon be spilled in Iowa. In an inexplicable decision, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave the green light to a facility in Sigourney to begin slaughtering horses for human consumption. The decision ignored the fact that an overwhelming 80 percent of Americans oppose the practice and that the horse meat produced here in Iowa would be a potential health risk for the people who consume it.
The predatory horse slaughter industry wants us to believe that horse slaughter on U.S. soil is somehow a humane option, but it is exactly the opposite. Horse slaughter – whether in U.S. or foreign plants — is abusive from the auction house to the kill box. Horses will travel to Iowa from all around the country, likely crammed in trailers, for days without food, water or escape from extreme temperature. They won’t be “old” or “unusable” horses, either. The USDA itself reports that more than 92 percent of horses sent to slaughter are in good condition and wouldn’t otherwise need to be euthanized. The kill buyers snatching up horses at auctions to sell for slaughter are looking for the best price per pound, not the sickly and thin.
When horse slaughter plants operated in the United States prior to being shut down in 2007, USDA documentation and undercover investigations revealed horrific suffering: horses enduring repeated attempts to render them unconscious; employees whipping horses in the face; and horses arriving at the slaughterhouses with broken bones protruding from their bodies, eyeballs hanging by a thread of skin and open wounds. There is no reason to think this grisly practice will be any different here in Iowa.
Even aside from the animal welfare concerns, horse slaughter in the United States is a bad business plan. Americans don’t raise horses for food, and we consistently treat them with various drugs and medications, such as Phenylbutazone (“bute”), which are banned by the Food and Drug Administration from use in animals intended for food. Horse owners rarely maintain detailed medical records for horses, so there is no adequate safeguard in place to ensure that U.S. horse meat, regardless of where the animal is slaughtered, is safe for human consumption. Iowa plays an important role in American food production and agriculture. The last thing we want is to ruin our reputation by selling tainted meat butchered on our soil.
The horse slaughter industry is also bad for the communities that host it. The plants that used to operate in the United States provided only a few low-income, dangerous jobs, and they devastated the local environment by flooding the local water supply with blood and permeating the air with a foul stench. The negative stigma destroyed property values and caused other business to look elsewhere for a place to set up shop.
Iowans deserve better than to have the ugly blemish of a horse slaughter plant in our state. We can stop the inhumane horse slaughter industry in its tracks by urging Congress to pass the Safeguard American Food Exports Act, which outlaws the slaughter of American horses on U.S. soil and the export of live horses across the borders for slaughter. Passage of this law is crucial to preserve our country’s reputation for safe food exports and to protect our horses from the brutality of slaughter.
Carol Griglione is the Iowa state director for The Humane Society of the United States.