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Students hope to gain support for anti-horse slaughter bill

By Annie Tai | Staff writer
Published Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Two students established an organization last Friday in an effort to spark campus awareness of equine cruelty and gain support for a bill outlawing horse slaughter.

Students Against the Slaughter of Horses (SASH) is dedicated to getting students invovled in the movement to prevent the ongoing slaughter of horses in the United States for human consumption in foreign countries, said club president and founder Amanda Karkula, sophomore in ACES.

"A lot of people don't know where their horses are going when they sell them at auctions," Karkula said. "Middlemen, or 'killer buyers,' buy these cheap horses for slaughtering companies."

A slaughtering plant in DeKalb, Ill., is currently under renovation after being destroyed by a fire two years ago, Karkula said. If reopened, Caval International will be one of three horse-slaughtering plants operating in the United States. Two others are located in Texas.

Thousands of horses are slaughtered each year, Karkula said. There were 42,312 horses killed in the United States for human consumption overseas in 2002, according to United States Department of Agriculture records. That number does not include horses that were transported across borders into Canada and Mexico for slaughter.

As someone relatively unexposed to the industry until a month ago, Karkula said she has since devoted herself entirely to researching the truth behind the practice of horse slaughter.

Allison Montgomery, junior in LAS and the group's treasurer, said she was also previously unaware of the horse slaughter industry.

"The more I learned about it, the more passionate I became," Montgomery said.

Public awareness and action is especially important now because of the introduction of a new federal bill, she said. If the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act is passed, the slaughter of horses within the United States for human consumption would be banned.

Goals for SASH include promoting public awareness, sponsoring horses in rescue facilities and fundraising.

Karkula credited Susan Wagner, president and founder of Equine Advocates Inc., and Gail Vacca, affiliate of National Horse Protection Coalition, for providing her with reliable information on horse slaughter.

"We feel like horses should be raised like other animals that are not raised for slaughter," Vacca said. "The whole process is inhumane. It's just a nasty, despicable trade and it needs to stop."

Karkula said a large portion of the debate surrounds the use of captive-bolt stunning a blow to the head of a horse that causes unconsciousness but not death. Improper stunning performed by untrained employees also leaves horses in conscious pain as they receive repeated blows.

Also, stallions, mares and foals are sometimes crammed together in the same truck on their way to slaughter-houses in the worst conditions, where upon arrival, they are seriously injured or dead, Karkula added.

Karkula said she has been receiving both positive and negative feedback from University professors, with the majority of them in support of slaughterhouses.

Animal Sciences professor Kevin Kline thinks anti-slaughter groups are ill-advised. He anticipates that the outlaw of slaughter would "lead to an increase in horse abuse and a tremendous burden on horse adoption agencies."

"It's kind of scary how this whole thing might play out if it becomes law," Kline said. "Taking away a humane option of destroying a horse is setting a dangerous precedent."

Kline said it is more of a cultural issue than the humane issue focused on by animal rights activists.

"It's been portrayed in the media that all horse owners are against it, so they claim everyone is against it," Kline said. "But it's not true the biggest horse organizations are for retaining the slaughter option."

Kline said he does not oppose horse slaughter because outlawing slaughter is not likely to improve the humane care of horses. Furthermore, he added, banning it may become a large financial burden.

Karkula and Montgomery will be passing out information related to the issue and their club as well as purple ribbons in the Illini Union today. Purple ribbons are linked to Feb. 14, which marks the remembrance of all slaughtered horses, Karkula said.

"I've loved horses my entire life," Karkula said. "There is no excuse in my mind for this to go on."