Q--Is the prohibition against the slaughter of horses for human consumption
that's now working its way through the Illinois legislature designed to save the
lives of horses?
A--No. Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago), who wrote the current
version of the legislation, says he expects that many of the unwanted horses
that would have been killed and their meat sold overseas will instead end up at
the rendering plant.
Q--What does rendering involve?
A--According to the National Renderers Association, it begins when the owner of
a dead animal pays a renderer to take away the carcass. At the plant--skipping
over the icky details--the remains are turned into fats, oils and protein meal
that ends up in a variety of non-edible consumer products such as soap and
candles, as well as supplements for poultry and hog feed.
Q--And pet food?
A--No longer. The Pet Food Institute in Washington, D.C., says, "It has
been many years" since Rover and Whiskers chowed down on Old Dobbin.
Q--So it will remain OK to pay someone to turn a dead horse into chicken
feed, but it will be illegal to sell an unwanted horse to someone who will turn
it into food for Europeans to eat. Where's the logic in that?
A--This is not about logic. The legislation is largely fueled by our cultural
fondness for horses. Americans object to eating horses for the same reason we
object to eating dogs and cats, even though we kill millions of them every year
due to overpopulation.
Q--Are people who love horses squarely behind this bill?
A--No. The Horsemen's
Council of Illinois, the American Horse Council, the American Veterinary
Medical Association and the American Quarter Horse Association are among the
organizations that claim an interest in animal welfare yet oppose this and a
similar bill in the U.S. Congress.
Q--Don't they agree that it's revolting for humans to eat horse meat?
A--Many of them do. But they argue that slaughter is a sensible, economically
productive and humane way of disposing of horses no one wants.
Q--Don't slaughterhouses kill horses in a barbaric fashion?
A--The bolt-to-the-brain method, also used with cattle, has been deemed
"acceptable and humane" by the American Association of Equine
(Veterinary) Practitioners, which opposes the ban.
The National Horse
Protection Coalition in Washington, which supports the ban, argues this
point. Its Web site maintains that "low-skilled slaughterhouse
employees" often botch the job and cause the horses extreme suffering, and
that horses are subject to great stresses prior to slaughter.
Q--Who says "no one wants" these horses?
A--The marketplace. According to an
excellent two-part series in the Orlando Sentinel this week, horses bound
for the two operating U.S. horse slaughterhouses (the one in DeKalb that's
prompting the current fuss, Cavel International, has yet to re-open after a
fire) sell for less than $500, which is a fraction of the annual cost of keeping
The Horse Protection Coalition argues that if we put a stop to this practice,
"many of the horses previously slaughtered would instead be kept by their
owners or placed at sanctuaries."
Q--How many horses are we talking about here?
A--About 80,000 horses were slaughtered in the U.S. and Canada for human
consumption in 2003--roughly 1 percent of the horse population.
Q--How many jobs will be lost in Illinois if the bill in Springfield passes?
A--Cavel plans to employ 40 people if and when it reopens. Cullerton, who moved
the bill out of the Senate last week and expressed confidence it will reverse an
earlier 5-vote defeat in the House later this week, says these won't be new jobs
because Cavel will cause the local rendering industry to lay off employees.
But dead horses make up a very small percentage of any rendering facility's
input, according to the National Renderers Association, and Cavel will bring
business in from dozens of states.
Q--Where can I read more from both sides to help me make up my mind?