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AVMA outlines flaws in horse slaughter bill


Schaumburg, Ill.-The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 857) holds potential to harm more horses than it rescues, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Schaumburg, Ill.-The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 857) holds potential to harm more horses than it rescues, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Dr. Jack O. Walther

In an issue brief released at press time, the AVMA says the bill fails to address the welfare of affected horses, fails to ensure adequate funding required to properly care for horses when humane slaughter is no longer an option, fails to recognize professional judgment in appropriate application of euthanasia methods, and fails to consider potential environmental concerns associated with carcass disposal.

"The welfare of animals, and in this case horses, is the primary concern of veterinarians," says Jack O. Walther, DVM, AVMA president. "The proposed legislation, as written, could actually result in less humane treatment of these horses."

The number of unwanted horses sent for humane slaughter may overwhelm the ability of horse protection facilities to care for them, AVMA reports. Although HR 857 proposes USDA grants could be provided to assist in caring for these horses, AVMA contends no funds are available in the USDA budget to allocate to this need.

Funding lacking

HR 857 estimates approximately 55,000 horses were slaughtered in U.S. facilities last year. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, subsistence care for these horses would cost about $1,825 per horse per year, resulting in a potential funding requirement of $100 million per year during the first year of HR 857's enactment.

HR 857 authorizes emergency and nonemergency euthanasia under certain circumstances.

Limits on euthanasia methods

According to the bill, in emergency or nonemergency cases, equine euthanasia must conform to methods of euthanasia rated acceptable in the 2000 Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia. AVMA says, unfortunately, HR 857 permits gunshot (rated conditionally acceptable) only in cases of emergency, and completely prohibits use of a penetrating captive bolt (rated acceptable). Restrictions placed by HR 857 do not conform to the expert advice of the members of the AVMA's euthanasia panel.

Environmental concerns with carcass disposal

Primary options to dispose of horse carcasses, other than processing at slaughter facilities, include burial, rendering, cremation, placement in landfills and composting. Disposal regulations and methods vary from state to state. The need to dispose of many additional horse carcasses per year has the potential to create environmental problems, including soil contamination from pharmaceuticals that might be used for euthanasia, according to AVMA.

"Humane slaughter may not be the most desirable option for addressing the problem of unwanted horses," Walther says, "However, it may be preferable to allowing these horses to face a life of inadequate care or possible abandonment."

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