Congress, in its ceaseless effort to offer creative palliatives to the soothe the country's economic afflictions, has decided that it's okay to send that pony you got for your tenth birthday and neglected because you were only prepared to brush its mane and feed it sugar cubes once a week to the slaughterhouse. Lawmakers sneakily lifted a five-year ban on funding for inspections of horse meat intended for human consumption as part of the spending bill President Obama signed on November 18 to keep the government chugging along until the 2012 apocalypse gets a little closer and Congress can more effectively implement its "end of the world" t-shirt selling campaign to fill its empty coffers.
Opponents of the the measure to lift the ban on horse meat inspections claim that horses are beloved symbols of the American West that are traditionally exploited for bone crunching labor and races, not hamburgers. Wayne Pacelle, president of The Humane Society of the United States, predicts that Americans would be so upset "over slaughtering Trigger and Mr. Ed" that they would vigorously protest any new horse meat plants, which is as much to say that horses are to Americans what cows are to Hindus and therefore not for eating. There's also no extra money in the spending bill with which to conduct inspections and if American slaughterhouses were to re-open, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would have to dig inspection funds out of its ever-shrinking budget potentially costing costing taxpayers $3-5 million.
The ban on horse meat, however, unfortunately coincided with the beginning of the recession and contributed to a spike in abandonment, neglect, and abuse when owners could no longer afford to care for their horses, a 60 percent increase in Colorado's case — from 975 in 2007 to almost 1,600 in 2009. Some proponents of horse slaughtering such as Wyoming state lawmaker Sue Wallis see an opportunity in the lifting of the ban not only to reduce instances of neglect, but to bring back American jobs from Canada and Mexico, whose slaughterhouses siphoned much of the domestic business lost when the last American horse slaughterhouse closed in 2007. She claims that the ban devastated a sector of the agricultural economy "for purely sentimental and romantic notions," notions like horses are pretty and far more charismatic than cows or pigs.
States like Illinois and California have instituted their own bans on horse meat, but proponents of the congressional measure say that others such as Wyoming and North Dakota could open slaughterhouses in 30-90 days and in no time at all we could be offing almost a quarter of a million horses a year. These numbers have Dave Duquette, president of a nonprofit, pro-slaughter group that probably needs a new PR firm call United Horsemen (Sue Wallis is also the group's vice president), chomping at the bit to see Americans take the horse slaughtering reins (last one, I swear) from Canada and Mexico, whose horse meat plants siphoned much of the domestic business lost after 2007. Duquette claims to have "5-10 investors" lining up to open a new plant, some who will put up as much as $100,000, and if there's one thing Americans do really well, it's the systematic slaughter of herbivores.
However far this money will spread within the communities eyeing new plants depends on your cynicism. As an ethical issue, though, pro-horse slaughtering activists (yes, that's really how they're identified) make the case that there's some utility to be squeezed out of all those neglected animals that pony-crazed Americans are too hard-pressed to care for. The numbers seem to suggest a correlation between the ban on horse slaughtering and the rise in horse neglect, but these are in fact two separate issues — just because there's a ban on horse meat doesn't mean that hard-pressed horse owners have no alternatives to sending their animal off to the slaughterhouse. Animal rights groups insist that slaughtering animals is an inhumane practice and suggest that owners that are no longer able to care for their horses have them euthanized by a vet.
Though horse consumption has never been very popular in the U.S. (probably owing to the horse's iconic cultural stature coupled with the extremely influential My Little Ponies lobbying group), horse meat is considered a delicacy in Europe and Asia where it can cost up to $20 per pound and slaughtering horses is no worse than slaughtering any other kind of peaceable Old Macdonald creature. As a source of food, horse meat isn't particularly objectionable unless you already object to eating meat, but as lawmakers rally on either side of horse slaughtering debate, framing it either as an economic or an ethical issue, we might keep in mind the story about the nightmarish Sparboe Farms and consider that, instead of opening new slaughterhouses, we should be (greatly) improving those already in operation before McDonald's introduces the "McChampion Double Burger," made from the meat of past Kentucky Derby winners.