Welfare Concerns Prompt AVMA Opposition to House Bill on Transportation and Processing of Horses for Slaughter

by: Press Release

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:

Animal Welfare

  • 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 for euthanasia.

"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 activities.