A Publication of WTVP

Approximately 60,000 horses move through USDA-regulated processing facilities each year to be euthanized under the Federal Humane Slaughter Act. Currently, horse owners have a place to take their horses once they have lived out the prime of their lives, but this may change under the recently adopted HB 1711, which bans the harvesting of horses for human consumption. The Horseman’s Council of Illinois, Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Beef Association and the Illinois Pork Producers Association opposed this bill.

Today, the only such plant operating in the country is Cavel International in DeKalb, which harvests horse meat and ships it fresh to international markets in Japan, Belgium and France for human consumption. As a result of HB 1711, this plant is dangerously close to being shut down. (It had been shut down earlier this year but was reopened during the appeal process.) But if this plant closes and the practice of harvesting horses was stopped entirely, what other options would a horse owner have? The most likely alternatives would be selling the horse at an auction, euthanasia, burial or rendering.

Selling a horse at an auction may inadvertently direct the horse to an out-of-country harvesting facility in Canada or Mexico. It can be very stressful on a horse to be transported long distances, and transportation costs are significant. Another result of across-the-border horse shipments is lower auction prices. Those who have made a living at country auctions where horses are bought and sold are hurt by low bidding prices, and the whole equine industry has taken a financial hit.

On-farm euthanasia may be another alternative. The process of humanely disposing of a horse would allow the carcass to be buried or rendered. However, most equine owners have developed strong bonds with their horses and would find this process to be emotionally difficult.

There is really no good alternative to horse harvesting. The easy solution, horse activists purport, is to adopt out unwanted horses. In reality, it is not a viable alternative, as some horses are incorrigible, mean-spirited or dangerous to be around humans. If all unwanted horses were diverted from harvest to adoptive shelters, it is estimated that the U.S. would need an additional 2,700 such facilities in the first year alone, according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners. It would cost $1,900 per year to house each unwanted or abandoned horse, not including veterinary or farrier services, and $127 million to properly care for these 60,000 animals. Animal shelters, humane associations and rescue operations are woefully underequipped to take care of the sheer numbers of these animals coming off the market.

What issues arose when the Cavel plant was temporarily shut down? In some cases, people left their horses out in the country to fend for themselves, while others left their unsold horses at the sale barn. The plant needs to keep its doors open so that horse owners have a place to take their horses where their meat can be harvested in an ethical manner and exported to other countries. It is the best solution and would cause the least amount of stress on both the horse and the owner.

If live horses were being shipped to other countries to be harvested or unwanted horses were placed in adoptive shelters, someone would have to pick up the tab, and unfortunately, it would, once again, be the American taxpayers. IBI