John Murrell: Trigger doesn't belong on dinner plate

11:00 AM CDT on Friday, May 21, 2004

Last year over 50,000 American horses were slaughtered in two foreign-owned (French and Belgian), Texas-based horse slaughter facilities to be served as a delicacy in European restaurants.

Horses from all over the United States, stolen or purchased under false pretenses, federally protected wild horses, young horses, old horses, healthy horses and sick ones all were hauled in cramped and deplorable conditions often for over 24 hours without food, water or rest simply to satisfy a foreign desire for American horse flesh.

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (House Resolution 857 and Senate Bill 2352) has been introduced in Congress to end this cruel industry. The House version currently has the support of 225 co-signers, whose number includes several members of the Texas delegation.

Nevada Republican John Ensign, one of two veterinarians in Congress, recently introduced the Senate version. Sen. Ensign along with countless veterinarians, national horse industry groups, humane organizations and the American public realizes the importance of this effort.

Yet despite polls showing strong opposition to horse slaughter, and horse industry support for ending the practice, a few in Congress bolstered by the political leadership of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Quarter Horse Association are defending an industry that inflicts immense suffering on horses.

Like countless veterinarians around the country, Dr. Nicholas Dodman of Tufts University wrote an open letter expressing his disbelief that these professional organizations would take a view favoring horse slaughter. He wrote, "Why would elite veterinary groups that should be guardians of animal welfare take such a contrary position? Have they considered the inevitable suffering that the current situation brings about as opposed to the hypothetical suffering that these horses might have to endure should they be allowed to live?"

Clearly the answer is no. There is no worthy argument in favor of horse slaughter, and these organizations continue to misrepresent the facts in this issue.

They claim that, without slaughter, cruelty would increase. However, the evidence shows the opposite. Following the 1998 ban on horse slaughter in California, a University of California researcher reported that equine cruelty did not increase, and that horse theft decreased by 34 percent.

Horse-slaughter proponents allege that once horse slaughter is banned, a ban on beef will be next. Texas banned horse slaughter for human consumption in 1949, and, to date, no effort has been made to ban beef.

Americans do not eat horses, nor do we raise them for food. If horse slaughter is banned, the cattle industry could benefit from an increased demand for beef by the countries whose citizens currently eat horsemeat.

Horse-slaughter advocates mislead the public by equating slaughter with humane euthanasia. Horses are slaughtered in this country for one reason: human consumption overseas. Slaughter is not a form of euthanasia. If a horse is suffering or infirm, the only humane option is to have a licensed veterinarian come to the barn and gently put the horse down in peaceful and familiar surroundings.

I am a Texan, a horse owner and a businessman, and, like all Texans, I know that the horse deserves better than this tragic fate.

Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit, summed up the public's view of horses when she said, "Here are these exquisite, immensely powerful creatures, who willingly give us their labor in return for our stewardship. They have attended us throughout history, bearing us across frontiers and into battle, pulling our plows, thrilling us in sport, warming us with their beauty.

"We owe them more than we can ever repay. To send these trusting creatures to slaughter is beneath their dignity and ours."

John R. Murrell, president of Three M Oil Co. in Dallas, is a native Texan and second-generation thoroughbred race horse owner.