The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
believes HR 857--The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act--could
potentially harm more horses than it saves. An analysis by the AVMA
reveals that HR 857, introduced by New York State Representative John
Sweeney, fails to address the welfare of affected horses, fails to ensure
levels of funding required to properly care for horses when humane
slaughter is removed as an option, fails to recognize professional
judgment in the appropriate application of methods of euthanasia for
horses, and fails to consider potential environmental concerns associated
with disposal of these horses.
"The welfare of animals, and in this case horses,
is the primary concern of veterinarians," said Jack O. Walther, DVM,
AVMA President. "The proposed legislation, as written, could actually
result in less humane treatment of these horses."
The AVMA outlined four areas of concern it believes must
be addressed before it could consider lending support to the bill:
- HR 857 does not adequately address the welfare of
horses for which humane slaughter will be removed as an option. The
bill does not establish standards that horse rescue facilities must
meet to ensure the humane care of these horses.
Funding for Humane Care
- The number of unwanted horses presently sent for
humane slaughter may overwhelm the ability of the current network of
horse protection facilities to care for them. Although HR 857 proposes
that grants could be provided from the USDA to assist in caring for
these horses, the reality is that no funds are available in the USDA
budget to allocate to this need.
- HR 857 estimates that approximately 55,000 horses
were slaughtered in United States facilities last year. According to
the American Association of Equine Practitioners, subsistence care for
these horses would cost approximately $1,825/horse/year, resulting in
a potential funding requirement of $100 million/year during the first
year of HR 857's enactment. Adding more horses every year to the pool
of those needing care means that these costs will only increase.
Limits Placed on Euthanasia Methods for Horses
- HR 857 authorizes emergency and nonemergency
euthanasia under certain circumstances. According to the bill, in
emergency or nonemergency cases, euthanasia of these horses must
conform to methods of euthanasia rated acceptable in the 2000 Report
of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia. 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 Panel on Euthanasia, and
remove the opportunity for professional judgment, which is vital to
ensuring a humane death for these horses.
Environmental Concerns Related to Horse Carcass Disposal
- Primary options to dispose of horse carcasses, other
than processing at slaughter facilities, include burial, rendering,
cremation, placement in a landfill, and composting. Disposal
regulations and methods vary from state to state and county to county.
As a result, all options are not available to all horse owners in all
locales. The need to dispose of a large number of additional horse
carcasses per year has the potential to create environmental problems,
including soil contamination from pharmaceuticals that might be used
"Humane slaughter may not be the most desirable
option for addressing the problem of unwanted horses," Dr. Walther
said, "However, it may be preferable to allowing these horses to face
a life of inadequate care or possible abandonment."
Visit the AVMA web site at http://www.avma.org
to learn more about veterinary medicine and animal care, and to access
up-to-date information on the Association's issues, policies and