Opinion: Colorado should make sale of horses for human consumption illegal

Editor’s note: This column ran as a pro/con on Jan. 22, with a column written by Krista Kafer opposing Senate Bill 38.

For most Americans, the old expression “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse” is just hyperbole.

Buy people in other countries do eat horses and part of their demand for horsemeat is being satisfied by Colorado’s equines, which includes horses, mules, and burros.

The sale of horsemeat for human consumption became illegal in the United States in 2007 when the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act was passed. The law eliminated federal funding for horsemeat inspectors, effectively shutting down the three horse slaughterhouses operating at the time. While efforts have been made to restore funding and reopen domestic slaughterhouses, thus far those have failed.

The law didn’t stop Colorado’s horses from being sent to slaughter elsewhere.

Each year hundreds of Colorado horses, including some wild horses rounded up by the BLM, or those whose owners can no longer afford to care for them, are bought through private sales or at auction by “kill buyers” intent on sending them to slaughter. Some are transported to Mexico or Canada for slaughter and processing into food for Asian and European markets. Others are shipped live for processing overseas.

Most of these horses are healthy and could be rehomed for recreational, sport, law enforcement, therapy, or companion animal purposes. However, private individuals, rescues and sanctuaries who wish to buy the animals are frequently outbid by kill buyers looking to turn a quick profit. A National Geographic article published last August detailed the story of one trader who purchased a horse at auction for $400 and sold it the next day for $1,200. Excited by the easy money, he and his brother now buy between 100 and 150 horses each month for slaughtering purposes.

Unlike cows, sheep, or pigs, horses are not raised for human food. As non-food animals, horses are often administered vaccines or drugs that have never been tested for safety in humans. Warning labels on products like Phenylbutazone, a commonly used medication for treating pain and fever, state: “Treated animals should not be slaughtered for food purposes.” While the USDA requires an export affidavit stating an absence of infectious or contagious diseases, and proper disinfection of transport vehicles, there is no requirement to list drugs or vaccines that may have been administered.

Horse slaughter is ugly and brutal. A 2020 article published in the journal Meat Science reported that 79% of the horses transported to a Mexican slaughter plant had some level of bruising or worse upon arrival. An undercover investigation of a Canadian slaughterhouse found captive bolt stunning, the preferred method of inducing unconsciousness prior to slaughter, was ineffective for many animals, at least 40%, who were not rendered immediately unconscious or revived after stunning. Often multiple attempts – up to 11 in one case, were required. Even then, some horses were dismembered while still conscious.

Temple Grandin, a world-renowned professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University who has designed slaughter facilities for better treatment of animals for was interviewed on CBC news, the largest broadcaster in Canada, after watching the footage and concluded that workers were abusing horses when no one was watching them, including whipping horses in the face, and these workers had no managerial oversight.

This is no way to treat horses, which our state Legislature declared are “a cherished part of our Western Heritage and an important aspect of Colorado’s culture and economy.” A 2022 Lake Research Partners poll found 83% of Americans are opposed to the slaughter of horses for human consumption, a significant increase over the 69% of Americans opposed in 2006. There is strong support by Coloradans, including equine rescues and sanctuaries and animal welfare organizations like Animal Wellness Action Colorado that strongly support the bill.

So why are we betraying the horses that helped settle the west, blazed trails into unknown territory, plowed our fields, rounded up cattle, aided military operations, and delivered the mail? Today most horses are used for recreation, sport, therapy, and companionship purposes, and many owners consider their horse a part of the family.

SB23-038 would prohibit the purchase of a horse, donkey, or mule in Colorado if the buyer knows, or reasonably should know, the intent of the transaction is to send the animal for slaughter and processing into human food.

Roland Halpern is executive director of Colorado Voters for Animals, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that works with lawmakers to pass sensible animal protection laws. www.covotersforanimals.org

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