By Erin Rose
— A video of a slaughterhouse employee shooting a horse has fueled the debate over a proposed slaughter facility in Roswell.
The graphic video shows Tim Sappington scratching the colt’s muzzle and neck. He then turns to the camera and declares, “All you animal rights activists, fuck you!” before firing a shot through the horse’s head. He looks at the dying animal and says, “Good,” before walking away.
His daughter posted the video on YouTube to subsequent outrage. Sappington was also fired from Valley Meat Company, which has sued the USDA to inspect its facilities and permit it to slaughter horses for human consumption. Owner Rick De Los Santos has said that Sappington was reacting to harassment by animal rights activists.
The New Mexico Livestock Board is investigating Sappington for animal cruelty. But were his actions more cruel than what horses endure in a slaughterhouse?
The video of Sappington shooting an animal that clearly trusts him is horrific, bordering on unwatchable. Yet a shot in the head is quick and merciful compared to the suffering documented in horse slaughter facilities.
Slaughter industry advocates argue that domestic slaughterhouses will prevent horses from being abandoned or transported to inhumane slaughter facilities in other countries. They say we don’t have the infrastructure or funding to care for horses whose owners no longer want them. They also say it’s more humane to kill horses in industrial settings here at home than to risk their mistreatment abroad or slow starvation in the wild.
I defy anyone to investigate slaughterhouse conditions and claim they are the more humane solution.
Protection Measures Fall Short
Videos and images taken by USDA inspectors inside slaughterhouses during 2005 documented horses with eyes dangling from their sockets by a thin band of tissue and pus-filled sores on their muzzles. Others show animals lying in filth with partially severed limbs and gaping, untreated wounds.
Analysis of videos from Canadian slaughterhouses showed 40 percent of horses regaining consciousness after first being stunned. Some horses required eight or more blows to die, and could be heard whinnying throughout the process. In the words of Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a veterinarian who reviewed the videos, the process was “terrifying for most of the horses” and “horribly inhumane.”
Compounding the problem, horses bound for slaughter are often transported for hours with no food or water. Trapped in livestock cars designed for cows, which have a lower center of gravity, horses can lose their balance and hit their heads. Panicking in the tightly packed space, they have gouged their eyes out, broken legs, suffered severe lacerations and trampled each other.
Five facilities across the U.S. in addition to Valley Meat Co. are applying to the USDA for permission to slaughter horses.
A 2010 USDA report outlined several ways the agency had fallen short in overseeing and protecting horses transported to slaughterhouses outside of the U.S. How can we trust the agency to do a better job supervising slaughter facilities here?
Slaughter is not the same as mercy-killing or euthanasia. A 1998 study of more than 1000 horses sent to slaughter found that 92 percent of the horses were healthy with no behavioral problems.
Slaughterhouses are vultures feeding on the refuse from a dysfunctional horse breeding industry, which is funded heavily by horse racing. Holly Hazard from the Humane Society argued in a 2008 UDSA panel that with slaughter as an easy out, some owners prefer to kill healthy horses who aren’t up to their standards—and receive money for doing so—rather than responsibly breed and ensure decent treatment for the animals they’ve produced.
Enforcing responsible breeding programs and stiffening animal abandonment penalties would do more to reduce the numbers of mistreated or starving horses than offering convenient, local ways to slaughter healthy animals.
There are viable alternatives to horse slaughter. We as a society should work to create more.
Urging Congress to consider other options, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack pointed out that horses are used to help prisoner rehabilitation in his home state of Indiana.
Horses can be sold, donated or leased. Hundreds of organizations across the U.S. exist to help rehome a horse.
When a horse is nearing the end of its life, the owner should take responsibility for euthanizing it. If you have the money to buy a horse, care for a horse, or breed a horse, you should have the resources to find a home for it or put it down humanely.
New Mexicans should be concerned about the social costs and health concerns of opening a slaughtering facility for human consumption. Ultimately, however, our state shouldn’t harbor the barbarity of horse slaughterhouses, whether the meat is human-bound or not.