Given the importance of horses in Utah’s history and development, we should keep them from becoming food.
Last summer, when the Bureau of Land Management rounded up and removed hundreds of horses belonging to the beloved Onaqui herd from their western desert haul, many advocates feared some of the horses would end up at their destination. meat factories in Canada and Mexico, and served to foreign diners in places where horse flesh is considered a delicacy. It was a scenario that sparked concern across the country from people appalled that proud American mustangs were doomed to such a horrific fate.
No Onaqui horse has faced this terrible scenario, thanks in large part to the efforts of Red Bird Trust, a Utah nonprofit dedicated to making sure none of the horses fall into the wrong hands. But too many American horses, both wild and domesticated, are not so lucky.
In 2021 alone, more than 23,000 American equines, including once feral BLM mustangs, retired race and show horses, and abandoned pet ponies, were shipped across the border to slaughterhouses.
Americans feel a deep revulsion at the idea of eating horses, with polls showing that more than 80% of us strongly oppose the slaughter of horses for human consumption.
The horse plays a central role in the history and culture of the United States. We relied on horses to pull our plows, wagons, and cannons; Indigenous peoples became expert horsemen and rode their trusted mounts into battle and buffalo hunting. Americans have elevated horses to iconic status, featuring them in our literature, movies, and television, even using them as namesakes for cars and sports teams.
We don’t eat dogs and cats in America, thanks to the Dog and Cat Meat Trade Ban Act enacted in 2018, and because they arguably hold an even higher status in terms of food. importance to who we are as a people, Americans don’t eat our horses either.
The vast majority of owners choose humane euthanasia for old, sick, or lame horses, but few entrust their animals to buyers, notoriously unscrupulous profiteers who don’t care about animal welfare. Proponents of horse slaughter like to call it a “necessary evil,” as if horse owners have no other choice when they are no longer able or willing to care for their horse.
A 2017 study, however, found that 2.3 million Americans are both willing and currently have the resources to save a horse. Hundreds of nonprofit programs exist across the country to help people provide good care for their animals, including hay banks, gelding and euthanasia clinics, and training incentives. Many horse rescue organizations and sanctuaries use foster home networks to help place transitioning horses.
While most of us would agree that slaughter buyers and foreign meat companies are irrelevant on the subject of how we treat our horses, unfortunately they have the ear of a core group of members of Congress who consistently block legislation to protect American horses from the horrors of foreign slaughterhouses.
This week, the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee will consider the Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act, a bill to ban the slaughter, sale for l slaughter and transportation for the slaughter of American horses for human purposes. consumption. About half of the House of Representatives co-sponsored the bill, a sign that large numbers of Americans have reached out to their lawmakers.
The bill enjoys bipartisan sponsorship, but unfortunately the Utah delegation either came out in favor of the horse slaughter or remained silent. Considering the role horses have played in Utah’s history, especially for the native tribes and early Mormon settlers, you would think state leaders would lead the effort to protect horses. Instead, they have chosen to be among the loudest voices to rid our public lands of feral horses to make room for more livestock and to send horses to the slaughterhouse.
Horses and the people who love them deserve better. If you agree that sending our beloved equines to Canadian or Mexican meat plants for the benefit of foreign diners amounts to a betrayal of a good trusted friend, please take the time to call on your members of Congress to pass the law. SAFE.
Scott Beckstead, Sutherlin, Oregon, is director of campaigns for Animal Wellness Action and adjunct professor of law at Willamette University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in pre-law and philosophy from Utah State University and a law degree from the University of Utah.