Congress has found what many may think of as an unexpected supporter in its decision to bring back horse slaughter facilities to the US after a 5-year-ban: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the often-controversial animal rights group known for campaigns like “fur is murder."
In an interview with the Monitor, PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk said the US should never have banned domestic horse slaughter – a stance that has put the organization at odds with other mainstream animal rights groups, like the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
“It's quite an unpopular position we've taken,” Ms. Newkirk says. “There was a rush to pass a bill that said you can't slaughter them anymore in the United States. But the reason we didn't support it, which sets us almost alone, is the amount of suffering that it created exceeded the amount of suffering it was designed to stop.”
While PETA says the optimal solution is to ban both consumption slaughter and export of horses, it supports reintroducing horse slaughterhouses in the US, especially if accompanied by a ban on exporting any horses at all to other countries.
There are now plans in over half a dozen states in the South and West to begin horse slaughter processing, a business worth about $65 million a year before Congress defunded the inspection regime. While unpalatable to most Americans, horse meat is eaten in Mexico, Asia, and parts of Europe.
As Newkirk predicted, the end to domestic slaughter didn't curtail the number of horses being slaughtered for consumption, but, according to a GAO report, may have led to more inhumane treatment of old, abandoned, or neglected equines as greater numbers were instead shipped to Mexico or Canada for slaughter where the USDA doesn't have the authority to monitor the horses' conditions.
The number of horses exported from the U.S. to Mexico, for example, increased by 660 percent since the de facto ban, the Government Accounting Office reported in June. Almost 138,000 horses were shipped out of the country for slaughter in 2010, compared to the 104,899 horses that were slaughtered domestically in the year before the ban took effect.
“It's hard to call [the end of the horse slaughter ban] a victory, because it's all so unsavory,” Newkirk says. “The [funding] bill didn't mean any horses were spared, but it does mean the amount of suffering is now reduced again.”