January 15, 2009
Grooming a dead horse BY PAUL W. JACKSON
This time, the last person out of Michigan can turn off the lights from horseback. If there are any horses left. "That's not an overstatement," said Ernie Birchmeier, livestock specialist with Michigan Farm Bureau. "The horse racing industry is in serious peril of being driven out of the state, as evidenced by the recent closing of the Jackson Harness Raceway and declining racing revenues across the board. Also, we may think there will always be a pleasure horse industry here, but with even more nonsensical, misguided and emotion-driven legislation proposed in Congress, there may be no way to save Michigan's equine industry, or its contribution to the state's economy."The lion's share of discretionary income spent on horses generally goes to the pleasure horse industry, but bad legislation is putting even that in peril, said Val Vail-Shirey, executive director of the Michigan Equine Partnership (MEP).
"We're having issues with trails closing to horseback riders, the total ban on horse slaughter in the United States, and now, U.S. Rep. Conyers of Michigan will likely reintroduce a bill that would prosecute people who transport horses to slaughter houses in Canada or Mexico. So here you have the bottom dropping out of the racing industry, the higher cost of feed and unwanted horses, and people are just walking away. It's hard to stay upbeat about the industry when the Humane Society of the United States is making the decision that horse slaughter is immoral. Without the slaughter option, people are just leaving them to starve."
As was the case in 2004, warnings about unintended consequences of legislation are prevalent. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) warned in its agenda for the 111th Congress that "if Congress decides that horses and other equids are prohibited from being processed for human consumption, it is estimated that each year an additional 100,000 unwanted U.S. horses would need to find an alternative method of care..." The AVMA also said "legislation is needed to ensure the humane care and treatment of these animals."
In other words, Birchmeier said, banning horse slaughter will lead to horse starvation, a much more cruel and agonizing death than slaughter.
"The Hollywood celebrity money behind the bans may be a great way for some people to salve their consciences and get some publicity out of their flavor of the month, but it is agriculture and taxpayers that will have to deal with the unintended consequences," he said. "What many of these people don't seem to understand - and maybe they can't because they have no idea what responsible animal ownership is all about - is that there are fates worse than death, and death is a part of life."
Editor: Paul W. Jackson