May 03, 2013

No easy horses: Part 2


By Madeline McCurry-Schmidt / ASAS Communications

A series about problems, solutions and public perception issues facing the U.S. horse industry. Part 1 showed how closing of U.S. horse harvest facilities affected horse well being. Data show that more horses today are abandoned or transported out of the United States for harvesting.

Part 2: What are our options?

Horse owners need a safe, humane and economically practical option for unwanted horses.

One solution is to house unwanted horses in animal shelters like those for dogs and cats. There are equine shelters out there, but few equine shelters receive significant government support.

Some animal shelters are independent, but many rely on local, state and federal grants to stay open. Very few of these grants are available for equine rescue organizations. For a 2010 study published in the Journal of Animal Science, researchers from UC Davis surveyed staff from 144 equine rescue organizations. They found that “federal, state, and local grants were not considered a major source of funding in 95% of the organizations.”

Some argue that because federal and state governments played a role in stopping horse meat harvest, the government should also step in to fund horse rescue groups. The lack of support for equine rescue groups helped shape the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) view of horse processing in the United States.

It is the AVMA’s official position that, “Until suitable short- and long-term solutions to address the welfare issues associated with unwanted horses are in place, we believe that none of the options for dealing with unwanted horses—including slaughter—should be eliminated.”

Another option is to reduce horse breeding. Fewer foals would mean fewer unwanted horses in the future. However, the average horse lives 30 years, so it would be years before this strategy would help.

“We have a large population of unwanted horses for which immediate options are needed,” writes the AVMA.

Euthanasia is third option for unwanted horses. Approved euthanasia techniques include: chemical injection, gunshot or penetrating captive bolt followed by exsanguination. Chemical euthanasia is the most common.

Disposing of the horse carcass after euthanasia can be complicated and expensive. There are several options, but each has drawbacks.

Burial or composting is illegal in many areas because of the serious risk of ground water contamination. Cremation is another option for horse remains, but it is also the most expensive. According to University of Illinois Extension experts, cremation or incineration can cost between $600 and $1,000. Many areas do not have incinerators that can handle horses, and transporting a carcass for cremation can increase the cost to $1,600 for a single horse. A few universities have access to biodigesters that the public can pay to use.

That leaves two options for horse carcasses: landfills or rendering. Many landfills do not accept horse carcasses. Some that do accept carcasses, do not accept horses killed with chemical euthanasia. Horses can also be rendered for industrial uses or pet food; however, rendering plants do not accept horses killed with chemical euthanasia. Both landfills and rendering plants charge a fee to accept carcasses. Transport to landfills or pick up by renders may not be viable options for rural horse owners.

Everyone wants horses to be treated well and disposed of safely. As the AVMA stated, harvesting horses for meat is a possible option.

But will harvest facilities return to the United States? That is up to lawmakers, voters and everyday grocery shoppers. In Part 3 of this series, we will learn how public perception affects animal agriculture.


“2005 The Economic Impact of the Horse Industry on the United States National Report” from the American Horse Council

Unwanted Horses and Horse Slaughter (FAQ) from the American Veterinary Medical Association

“Unwanted horses: The role of nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary organizations,” by K. E. Holcomb, et al.

“Horse Disposal Options” from the University of Illinois Extension

“Carcass Disposal Options” by David L. Meeker