Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Controversial Subject

by Laura Crum

Today’s post is on a controversial subject in many ways, be warned. A lot of you may have strong feelings about this topic. I want to bring it up because its something I think about and wonder what the best answer is. I don’t have a simple solution, but I do have some ideas. And I think they’re worth talking about.

First off, I want to say that one reason I think about this topic as much as I do is because I occasionally read the blog, “Fugly Horse of the Day”. Its listed on the sidebar for those who wish to check it out. And, in fact, I have been reading this blog (and others) more often lately because I am in the midst of churning out my twelfth novel. I am in that particular stage, familiar to all authors, where I must simply generate the bulk of the material. I have a plot and characters and an outline; I have written the oh-so-enjoyable first few chapters. I am about halfway through the book and now I must steadily pour out reams and reams of story (or so it seems to me right now). Those who write novels will understand that this is not always a delightful, joyous, creative occupation. Sometimes it feels like trudging up a steep hill—with a long way to climb ahead. But I must persevere, because I have a deadline looming. So I spend many hours, nose to grindstone, or rather keyboard, typing away. And when I get stuck, or need a break, I have a tendency to click around reading horse blogs. And often, I read the fugly blog.

Now, Fugly is a controversial subject in and of herself. Many of the “horse bloggers” hate her, others love her. Me, I neither hate nor love Cathy, the blogger, nor her blog. I think she does a good job getting a lot of important info out to the public and she is a clever writer—and I also think her heart’s in the right place. This last means I think she is doing her best to reduce the suffering that goes on in the lives of horses and all animals. That said, I disagree with her on many points and I’m not always nuts about her attitude. However, guess what? Its that very attitude that has made her so successful as a blogger—that’s what people read her blog for. They like to hear her bash people. And she’s smart enough to know that. And one of the things that Cathy/Fugly is vehement about is being anti-slaughter.

Since reading the fugly blog I’ve learned a lot about what the slaughter business amounts to right now, and it is all horrific. I am totally anti-slaughter, too, as it exists today. But I think the underlying problem is deeper than Cathy or others who are simply anti-slaughter are willing to consider, and I’d like to put my views forth here and see what you all think.

First off, I am a person who does her best to treat all animals with respect and love. I retire my old horses and euthanise them when their time comes; I am aghast when folks I know take their horses to the sale (to potentially end up going to slaughter), and I tell them so. I have been known to rescue other people’s retirees and give them a home. I love all my animals, and I will allow no harm to be done to the wild animals on my property, including the troublesome ones. So I guess you could say I’m totally on the same page as the anti-slaughter people when it comes to wanting to prevent animal suffering.

I raise my own beef—partly because I want to know I’m eating healthy meat, and partly because I want to know that the steer I’m eating had a good life and a peaceful death. And I do ensure this. My steers live to be 5-7 years old in a big pasture. They are never penned up; they are killed by a professional ranch killer as they stand there grazing. One moment alive, the next gone. No hauling, no feedlot. No suffering.

Now I have had vegetarians tell me that I am evil for killing these steers, and I am a bit puzzled by this. The steers will die in the end. We all do. Death cannot be avoided. Suffering can be avoided—not death. I did not bring the steers into the world—I don’t raise either cattle or horses. By buying these steers, I saved them from a short life and a nasty end. If I let them live a great deal longer, they would simply be faced with the various maladies of old age. Why is it wrong of me to give them a peaceful end to a very good life and eat their meat? I think its win/win. And I honestly think that the best answer to the horse slaughter conundrum is not to ban slaughter but to create a program that is in some ways like the program I have for my steers.

The problem with saying that horse slaughter should disappear and that everyone who no longer wishes to keep a horse and can’t find a buyer should cough up the money to euthanize the horse, or at least shoot it, is that many, many people do not regard horses as pets. Very many people regard horses as livestock, and they do not consider livestock to have any feelings worth considering. I’m not defending this point of view; I’m just saying that its pretty common. Fugly has said that in this society horses are pet animals and should be treated as such, and I think that’s a gray area. We might wish this were so, but historically, in this society, horses were not very often pet animals. They were a means of transport and then a means of making money (racing, horseshows/horse training, trading…etc), and having fun (horse as sporting equipment). It has always been the exception rather than the rule that a horse owner loved his/her animal and took care of them when their working days were done. Given this situation, I think it makes more sense to find a solution that incorporates the point of view that horses are livestock like cattle—something to make money on—rather than pets.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t agree with that view. I love horses and I don’t want to see them suffer. But I know tons and tons of people who do treat horses as if they were cattle, just something to make money on (or sporting equipment—to be got rid of when it doesn’t work any more), and who don’t think that either horses or cattle have “feelings”. The fact that I believe these people are totally wrong (or fugly believes that, or any of us) doesn’t change the way such folks think. And by the way, from their point of view, I treat my cattle as if they were horses.

What if we all just agreed that an unwanted horse is better off dead than suffering and that there is no harm in using his flesh, as long as he is killed humanely. What if there were pastures and ranch killers set aside for this purpose, and there were strict rules as to how the procedures could be done. What if “horse killers” could thus raise “clean” meat such as I raise my steers (by keeping the horses on good pasture and hay for several months) and then sell the humanely killed horses for top dollar to the markets that want such meat. What if they could make a good profit this way?

I think that the horror in horse slaughter comes from the dreadful hauling conditions and feedlot conditions and the equally horrible way in which these horses are killed. There is no horror in a quick painless death while grazing, such as I give my steers. In actual fact, it’s a more reliably peaceful death than euthanasia, when executed by a competent professional. There is no horror in using the meat for food.

So I want to suggest that rather than taking up the somewhat unrealistic position that everyone should regard horses as pets, that all horsemen adopt the position of trying to create a truly humane way to “process” unwanted horses. One that is good for both the horses and the people involved.

And yes, I agree that it’s a shame to kill a young horse that has never had a chance, and if someone can give that horse a chance, more power to them. But starving backyard horses are not getting a life that’s preferable to my proposed slaughter program, in my opinion.

Also, I have not touched at all on the other aspects of this subject, such as people breeding horses for which there is no market, and the harm done by failing to have young horses trained such that they are capable of a useful working life. At the moment, I’m just trying to focus on the one problem. There are many unwanted horses who suffer and their current end through the slaughter industry is horrible. I think we should try to make a positive change and I think my idea makes more sense than banning slaughter. Well, we did ban slaughter and what came of it was just as bad. Horses hauled further, to die in worse conditions. It isn’t working. Lets try something different.

Ok—there’s my ideas on this subject—I’d welcome hearing yours.


gillian said...

I think your observations about the Fugly blog are spot on.

In theory, I like your plan for using horses for meat. In practice I worry that humane standards are hard to enforce. I still think its a reasonable idea, I would just add some kind of supervising body to go along with it.

Mrs Mom said...

Excellent excellent post Laura. Very well said and very well done.

Laura Crum said...

gillian--Thanks for the comment--I always enjoy your insights. And yes. If someone actually asked me how to implement this program, I would say that there would have to be an independent, supervising body composed of knowledgable livestock people. This body would have authority to check up on my humane slaughter programs, and close any that were not up to snuff. I totally agree with your point that humane standards are hard to enforce. But hauling slaughter horses to Canada and Mexico leaves us with NO ability to enforce anything. Thanks for seconding my observations on fugly. She does tend to raise strong emotions--on both sides.

Mrs Mom--I was thinking of you at times when I wrote the post. I appreciate your kind words. I think you and I are often on the same page.

Susan said...

I agree completely. I've always said that I have no problem with horses being eaten. It's the way they're treated before slaughter that appalls me. That goes for all animals. They are giving their lives so that we can live and deserve the utmost honor and respect.

By the way, if I load up a horse and appear on your doorstep, will you take me riding on the beach?

Laura Crum said...

Thank you Susan. Since I know you also raise your own beef, your words represent a knowledgable opinion on this subject. As for the beach--sure--but I warn you, many otherwise gentle horses who have never seen the ocean react quite dramatically to their first sight of it. Can I come ride on your ranch in Montana?

SunnySD said...

One of the more sane and rational essays I've read on the topic(although I may be saying that because I happen to agree with you). Implementation... that's a tough one. We still have problems enforcing standards of care for lab animals, and there are certainly enough regulations governing their care out there.

South Dakota is considering opening a horse slaughter facility again. I'm hoping it doesn't happen. I think humane standards are still too nebulous and enforcing them is incredibly problematic. But....

kel said...

Some times I think that you have read my mind. The words slaugher and euthansia are not interchangeable. The word slaughter always congers up horrid mental pictures of blood and gore. Euthansia brings to mind a peaceful end. But that isn't reality. I read fugly also and while I love her happy ending stories, she can be a little over the top sometimes.

I don't understand in this country why we can't have humane, regulated slaughter. I don't want to eat horse meat and I don't want to see it on our groceries counter either. I don't eat goat, lamb, or beef tongue, heart etc., and I don't like to look at it in the meat counter, but I deal with it. That doesn't mean that I think that the entire worlds population shouldn't eat whatever they want.

If I die and my body, either in hole or part, can save another life, nurish a tree or another human or what ever, that is what I want to have happen. To end an animals life and the remains don't go to a good end, isn't that a waste of it's life?

Natalie Keller Reinert said...

I agree, Laura, well said.

There is a problem with slaughter, of course, which isn't addressed here. You should never eat horse meat because it is, simply put, toxic. Go look on your feed room shelves. Go look on your bute bottles and your wormer tubes.

We need more euthanasia, but slaughter for human consumption can't be instituted safely, in my opinion.

Laura Crum said...

SunnySD--Yes, enforcing it would be the tough part. And the concept I am talking about is pretty far removed from a "slaughter plant". It is closer to the idea of grass fed beef--with the stipulation that the animals must be killed as they stand there grazing--not hauled to any "plant" at all. It is the body that gets hauled. This is what I do with my steers. It takes the suffering out of it. Would this work for horses? I think it could work, if enough people who cared and were knowledgable about livestock got involved. It would have to be profitable for those who were raising the meat. But yes, it always seems to turn out that those in charge of "regulating" something are hand in glove with the enterprise in question.

kel--I honestly believe that humane horse slaughter such as I describe would be better for everyone than what we have now. Healthy meat from healthy horses could feed people. Unwanted horses would not suffer. Some people could perhaps make a living doing this work. As I said of my grass fed steers--its win/win. I give them a good life and a peaceful death and they give me healthy food. I totally agree with you.

Natalie--You raise a good point. With my steers, which have been wormed in their lives...etc, I make sure they live at least a year (usually two or three) free of any "medicine" before they are harvested. This isn't something that I "know" to be a safe window--its just my instinct. But I believe we could determine the safe window for human consumption of horse meat--whether the horses would have to be on pasture six months sans meds or whatever. Also, if you buy "regular" meat in the grocery store, you are getting plenty of very toxic stuff--such animals receive hormones, antibiotics, wormers...etc. Theoretically not within a certain window before slaughter, but I don't place much confidence in this. Its one of the reasons I raise my own meat.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post about a very difficult topic! I agree with you completely. Unwanted horses are still being slaughtered, and I believe they are suffering more throughout the process than before slaughter was banned here in the U.S.

Whether or not you would personally choose euthanasia over slaughter, the fact is that someone else may choose slaughter. We need to ensure that the horses for whom that choice is made suffer as little as possible before their end.

Laura Crum said...

Anon--Yes, if anything, things are worse for horses now that slaughter is banned in the US. However, if we begin "slaughtering" horses in this country again, I think it needs to be a different paradigm, more like what I describe in the blog post. Not that anybody is likely to listen to me on this.

Susan said...

To kill animals in the field, there would have to be a mobile butchering facility that can come to the location. We cannot kill our own steers because legally processors can't touch animals that aren't killed at their facility if the meat is to be sold.

Come on out to Montana to ride. I can imagine how an inland horse could react to the ocean. It must be a hoot!

Susan said...

Mobile butchering plants do exist. If there was one around here, that is definitely the way we would go.

Laura Crum said...

Susan--I did not know that. My steers can be killed in the field because I do not sell the meat, I suppose. But really, all it would take would be a slight rule change. "Approved" ranch killers with "approved" transport vehicles could in theory then legally kill livestock in the field and transport the carcass to the butcher (as we do with our cattle). I don't know if this would be more economically feasible than mobile butchering units or not.

Linda Benson said...

Laura - I also think something should be done about sending horses across our borders to be slaughtered under conditions we probably don't want to think about, and I believe there are some bills moving through the political process right now addressing that issue. But the idea of what people can do with the horses they don't want still remains. While I love the idea of an animal living a perfect life at pasture until the end, I can't see this working on a large scale. For one thing, how many horses actually live out on pastures? Many are in boarding stables and people's backyards, not a safe place to proceed with what you are thinking of. If there were an actual humane way to bring about their death, I have no problem with the use of their meat. We lived near a wildlife center for awhile, and when a young horse needed to be put down, we were ready to donate the meat to them. But they could not take it because of the drugs involved in euthanasia. So there are many problems to be addressed, but I do think it is fine if horse lovers have these difficult discussions. We need to think about these topics and help come up with solutions, to help our equine friends end their lives in a decent and humane way.

Laura Crum said...

Linda--The idea I am proposing here bears little resemblance to an animal living out its perfect life in pasture and being euthanised at "the end". This is lovely if you are a responsible owner and can provide it (and I do). If you read my post carefully, you'll see that I am proposing something much more along the lines of how I raise my grass fed beef as a solution for unwanted horses. The pastures in question would be owned by folks who intended to make money on the horsemeat, just as ranchers make money on cattle. In theory, said operators could get these unwanted horses for next to nothing, keep them on clean pasture for a set amount of time, kill them humanely, and make money on the meat. Its a business model, and whether it would work or not on a large scale depends on the obvious variables of costs versus what the meat would sell for per pound. Since I can't answer those questions, I can't say if its a viable business model. However, I can say that what I proposed in the blog post would be a perfectly logical, reasonable way for people to get rid of unwanted horses. Rather than having to pay for euthanasia and the tallow truck, they could donate the horses to said humane slaughter program, which, if run in more or less the way I deal with my grass fed beef, would be both a humane and a practical thing. And as for donating meat to wildlife centers--you must, of course, shoot the animal you wish to donate. It is very important to prevent any animal from eating another animal that has been euthanised, which is something we all need to be aware of.

Anonymous said...

Like you, we raise our own beef. We also sell some, and it is healthy and without steroids and antibiotics.
I don't think the same can be said for most horses in North America. I'm not willing to deal with that for the sake of healthy horsemeat. In the EU horses who receive bute can never be used for human consumption. All of mine have had bute.

Laura Crum said...

redhorse--Excellent point. Perhaps it would have to be clear that horses who had certain medications could only be used for animal feed. How in the world does anyone in the EU ascertain that a horse has never had bute in his whole life? That seems very problematic to me. Unless you raised the horse strictly as a meat animal?

Nikker said...

Finally a post on horse slaughter that is rational and well written!
Thank you!

Funder said...

Yeah, the Bute Issue is my problem with slaughtering horses for meat. You never know how the end is going to come - but if I can manage it, I'd love for my horse to feed the local hunt or a zoo. Have you ever considered that for one of your oldsters, Laura?

I think there are a very few horse-as-meat breeders in France, but I suspect most horsemeat in the EU is our buted-up blown-tendon TBs. :(

Anonymous said...

Laura, the EU has an equine passport system. Horses have to have one to be slaughtered, every medication and treatment has to be entered on it. I'd rather not deal with that.

From what I hear, and I don't know how good the research is, bute leaves some residue and there isn't a safe withdrawal time. They believe it can cause bone marrow problems, anemia and cancer in humans.

PortTownGirl said...

If it is okay for your steers, why not do this with horses too?

You could buy a few horses needing homes for this purpose and give them a "nice life" first. Just make sure you don't give them any carcinogenic meds before you shoot and butcher them for eating.

And why not cats and dogs too? Save them from the gas chambers. No doubt someone will eat them.

If you think it is different, it is not. This hypocrisy among meat eaters is clear.

Putting that aside, the slaughtering of horses for their meat is all about mass production for overseas consumers. It is about supplying a demand and making money from it. It is done the way it is for big profits. No other reason.

Laura Crum said...

PortTownGirl--You are right. It is done the way it is done to make money. I am suggesting we do it differently--in order that the process involve as little suffering as possible and also provide a peaceful death. In a perfect world, all horses would be kept the way I keep mine (who are all retired when their working life is done and euthanised when it is finally needed). However there are so many horses in the world that are unwanted and who DO go to slaughter and suffer terribly. I am proposing we make a realistic change--rather than just saying it shouldn't be this way.

redhorse--Perhaps a humane slaughter program for horses would have to focus on the market for "chicken" food...etc. (When I was young, selling a horse to the killers was called "chickening" him--for the above reason). But its a cinch that kill buyers are making money buying horses and shipping them to Canada and Mexico, with all the expense involved in that. Even if the meat went to the same markets it does now--the process could be very different. Also, I think it would be pretty easy to bute a horse and not mention it--so I'm guessing those EU passports don't mean a whole lot.

Funder--I myself have no wish to eat horsemeat--ever. I am pretty sentimental about my horses. They are all buried here on my property--just like my cats and dogs. Silly, I know. Basically I was trying to discuss a logical, practical and humane solution to the suffering that these poor unwanted horses go through. Since I do choose to raise steers for meat, I thought this could be used as a possible model for humane horse slaughter programs.

Nikker--Thanks for the kind words. I wish I could wave a magic wand and horse slaughter would just disappear, but given the circumstances of so many unwanted horses, this seemed a possible solution. It breaks my heart to think of all the suffering these poor horses currently go through.

Funder said...

Oh no, Laura, I didn't meant for you to eat one of your horses! I meant is there anywhere nearby you've thought about donating a body to? Like a foxhunt, or a zoo.

I am not sentimental about the body after the horse is gone, and if it worked out that a gunshot euth was as feasible as the blue juice, I'd definitely contact the local hunt.

Laura Crum said...

Funder--You know, I am sentimental about the bodies of my horses. It makes no sense--I'm aware of that. But I can't stand to have them hauled away by the tallow truck. They are buried here, in my corrals, and when I look at the stones that mark their graves, it makes me feel connected to them. I know this is kind of silly, and I'm not defending it as a practice. I certainly can understand wanting to donate a body to a wildlife center/zoo. As far as I know, you could hire a ranch killer to shoot such a horse and the meat would be acceptable. I have never done this with my own horses, so am no authority on the subject. I do know that euthanised horses are not safe for any animal to eat.

I knew you didn't mean for me to eat my own horses. I probably should have made that statement separately, not to you. Some of the commenters seem to think I'm aiming at raising horsemeat for myself, and that's not the case. I'm just trying to propose a humane horse slaughter program that is sensible and would reduce the amount of suffering unwanted horses currently go through.

Funder said...

Ok, whew :)

It's weird that I'm not sentimental about bodies. I like to have a little hair - I have been dragging Champ's hair around for two years, and I keep meaning to get it braided into a something. But once he was gone, he was gone, just a big furry thing. :( He's alive in my head, and I guess on the internet with all the stories I've told about him. :)

I don't think I have enough land to have a good place to bury a horse. Everyone has one acre lots and most of us are on wells.

Anyway, all this is off-topic to what you really wanted to discuss!

Laura Crum said...

Funder--Don't worry--I enjoy the discussion, wherever it ranges. Its a great excuse to take a break from this pesky novel I am supposed to be writing (!)

Funder said...

This is definitely more fun than laying the underlayment for my hall floor. Although, I'm almost out of coffee and that's my sign to get up and get to work!

Shanster said...

Really well thought out post Laura... I agree with pretty much all of it. I don't think death is awful but suffering is.

So many can't even fathom death and think it's horrible. I think there are many things worse than...

Laura Crum said...

Shanster--Yeah--death, awful or not, is inevitable. So I try to look at making life as good as it can be. In this particular situation/topic, I'm looking at what we can do to make a better life for unwanted horses. If they could really be treated as I treat my steers, it would be a good and reasonable solution. Given the fact that the proposed alternative to horse slaughter seems to be euthanizing them all (or those whom no one will step to adopt), which is not terribly practical.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing such a well thought out and much needed post! It seems as a group we are often very quick to criticize and point fingers but we don't always try to find or even offer a solution, such as you did.

No matter how many hoarders, abusers and fake "rescues" are caught there will always be more waiting in the wings. Back yard breeders will continue to do so, for generations on down, if they are not taught better then they will not change.

The idea of a safe and human end for our equine friends is brilliant. At least it is an alternative and if one responsible and caring person could start then hopefully more would follow.

Thanks for putting forth a very reasonable alternative to a very nasty and polarized issue!

Laura Crum said...

mommyrides--Lynn, right? Thanks for your comment. I only wish I was empowered to actually create such a program. But perhaps putting the idea out there may cause a ripple which could lead to real action. Certainly something needs to change. The system in place now is horrible.