AAEP clarifies stance on horse slaughter


Lexington, Ky.-In the wake of a reintroduced bill in Congress to ban horse slaughter in the United States, the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has reiterated, via a position statement, that the organization is not pro-slaughter.

Lexington, Ky.-In the wake of a reintroduced bill in Congress to ban horse slaughter in the United States, the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has reiterated, via a position statement, that the organization is not pro-slaughter.

Instead, in an official statement released in the fall, AAEP discloses, "We are pro-welfare of the horse" and says it recognizes horse slaughter is an important welfare issue for the entire equine industry.

Dr. Tom Lenz, outgoing AAEP president, says AAEP is not "proactively opposing" the bill. "Our approach is to educate the horse owner and the legislature and try to protect the health and welfare of the horse."

Dr. Tom Lenz

Lenz adds, "Honestly the people who propose these bills and support them don't honestly understand the issue. They tend to look at this as an emotional issue – these are horses, our companions and we're sending them off to slaughter."

Undisputable facts

Or, the sheer numbers alarm them: approximately 55,000 horses are slaughtered annually in the U.S., according to AAEP statistics. Yet such horses are taken to a processing facility because they are either no longer serviceable, are infirm, dangerous or their owners are no longer able to care for them, according to AAEP.

That said, AAEP's statement acknowledges: "Our association believes slaughter is not the most desirable option for addressing the problem of unwanted horses. However, if a horse owner is not able or willing to provide humane care, the AAEP believes that euthanasia at a processing facility is a humane alternative to a life of suffering, inadequate care and possibly abandonment."

Retaliatory action

In light of AAEP's position, in November, shortly after the equine group released the statement, Blue Horse Charities, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting horses from slaughter, engaged in some finger-pointing targeting AAEP and other horse-related industry groups. In an accusatory letter distributed to the racing industry, Blue Horse Charities claims the groups organized to stall passage of the bill.

To the contrary, contends Lenz. Although AAEP has not responded to Blue Horse's allegations officially, with the exception of AAEP's executive director's personal letter to the group, the association reiterates it "would endorse the bill if they made some provisions for caring for unwanted horses and if they made some provisions to stop transport of horses."

Specific to the bill, H.R. 857, referred to as the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, AAEP says it would consider supporting passage if specific revisions were made:

  • Funding of care for unwanted horses. As the bill stands, it does not address financial support for unwanted horses voluntarily given up by their owners. AAEP expresses concern that horse rescue and retirement groups will not have adequate resources without federal funding.

"The bill says the fed funds may be appropriated if horses are confiscated," Lenz says. "But we don't think that's adequate-'maybe.' We definitely have to have some funds allocated to that."

  • Development of a specific enforcement plan to stop illegal transporters. Because slaughter plants exist in Mexico and Canada, AAEP contends that if humane slaughter is banned in the U.S., then it is imperative that U.S. authorities aggressively enforce the law to prevent a black market of horses transported out of the country. Currently the bill does not include a specific plan detailing which agencies would oversee this component.

The concern to AAEP is that if the bill passes, many more horses will be shipped to Canada and to Mexico for slaughter, along with the thousands already being exported. Last year, the USDA reported 30,000 horses were exported to Canada for slaughter. Lenz suspects that number likely would double at least, if slaughter plants were to close. Lenz says no one "has a clue" how many horses are transported to Mexico.

Secondary bill component

Equally worrisome to Lenz and AAEP is the bill's view on euthanasia. "They're making a judgment on what's an acceptable humane form of euthanasia."

For instance, he says AAEP supports use of captive bolt euthanasia. "I've been to the slaughter plant in Texas and it is extremely humane. Proponents of the bill are misleading people in describing the procedure.

"This is an issue that has to be based on scientific fact. Our goal is to be the voice of reason, because the proponents tend to push this on an emotional level," he adds.

Bottom line

For the naysayers arguing the AAEP doesn't truly care about the horse - that's nonsense, says Lenz.

"We're concerned about the horse up to the point of death. What happens to the horse whether he's buried or eaten is not our issue – that's society's issue. We're concerned about the care of an animal ... and how he is euthanized," he says.

As for veterinary repercussions, should the bill pass, Lenz expects practitioners to see a surge in requests to euthanize animals, as well as an increase in the number of mistreated or abandoned animals brought to them by humane societies and adoption agencies.

"Veterinarians should care about the slaughter issue, because we're the gatekeepers for the health and welfare of the horse. We'll be at the center of this," Lenz says.

As to Blue Horse Charities' claims that AAEP's views on slaughter don't represent those of its members, Lenz cites a recent survey in which 85 percent of members support slaughter under reasonable conditions, as well as euthanasia with a captive bolt.

"We know exactly what our membership thinks. We're representative of our people," Lenz notes.

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