Skip to content

On Horse Slaughter and Confusion About Animal Rights

I used to think that most people knew the difference between animal welfare and animal rights. In my world, if you ask someone what animal rights is, they might not get it right, as they’ll say something about their dog voting or driving a car, but they do understand that rights is different from welfare in that welfare means treating animals better.

Why is it, then, that from what I have seen in The New York Times, the Washington Post, and on the AP wire (and deconstructed for two years), confusion abounds. (In July of 2007, I wrote what has become my most popular post: NYT Thoroughly Confused About Animal Rights.)

In the AP’s "Horse slaughterhouse’s reopening unlikely," by Joseph Sjostrom, we learn that Cavel International’s horse slaughter plant in DeKalb could reopen for slaughter if the meat was for pet food, but not if the meat was for human consumption.

Let’s deconstruct:

  • That’s the jaw-dropping part of the ban on horse slaughter. It’s not slaughtering them that’s bad, it’s slaughtering them then eating them that’s bad. But I thought the ban was supported because horses have a special place in American culture and we love them and we need to honor them and not disrespect and degrade them (not to mention torture them) by lining them up and killing them for any reason.
  • If that doesn’t send enough of a mixed message for you, I give you the mind-numbing reference to "animal rights groups such as the Humane Society of the United States," which is oddly followed by "Animal welfare activists argued that horses are companion animals that suffer cruelty in the transportation and slaughtering process."
    • I wonder what the relationship is between animal rights and animal welfare, according to Sjostrom. For instance, what’s an example of a welfare group?
    • Here’s what I don’t understand: Journalists are supposed to be detail-oriented, and their fact-checkers are supposed to make sure the details are correct. Given that, why do we see–not on blogs (though it’s there, too), but in the mainstream media, that HSUS is an animal rights group? It’s not as if HSUS is some obscure, under-funded, loosely-organized bunch of animal people who don’t know how to use the media, reach out to the public, or build a website.
    • How do I not mention the "that" in reference to the horses?
    • I’m not sure if activists argued that horses are "companion animals." Did they? And if so, did anyone challenge that notion? I don’t want horses to be slaughtered any more than I want cows to be slaughtered, but we should recognize that horses are treated far more like commodities than pets by us.

What do you suppose we can do to help neutralize the misinformation that reaches the public as legitimate, trusted journalism?

Because I’m a writer by trade, I of course think we should all write. We should write letters to editors, we should write opinion pieces, and we should write articles and books. And we should step out of the world of animal people–and especially vegans. If you’re a vegan, I’m not sure if it matters to me why you made that choice. And I certainly don’t want to spend time arguing with you when I could be writing a book or recording a series of podcasts that might help nonvegans realize that sentient nonhumans aren’t ours to use.

I think we have to take some responsibility for the confusion demonstrated by the mainstream media, or at the very least we have to do something about it by trying our best to catch each moment of misinformation, and clarify it. We won’t always get published, we won’t always be heard, but nothing will happen if we don’t at least try.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. vicki #

    First, let’s be factual. There is no ban on horse slaughter. The kill houses were closed resulting from individual state laws in Texas and Illinois. There is nothing at the national level that bans horse slaughter. I don’t know why people use the term animal rights because animals will never have rights. I believe that organizations, such as the HSUS, are concerned about the welfare of animals. Those of us trying to rid this country of horse slaughter are often called animal rights activists and that is not true. We are animal welfare advocates concerned about the welfare of our horses.

    Don’t even get us started on the so called journalists. They print false stories and when you give them the correct information with the facts to back it, they continue to support their false stories. If you read the so called articles that are pro slaughter, they all have the same theme and never give you facts. It’s always someone saw an abandoned horse or the continuous repeating of the pro slaughter mantra – what are we going to do with all the unwanted horses. One of my favorites is blaming the closing of the kill houses for abuse and neglect. Sorry, but anyone wishing to send their horse to slaughter can still do so. They’re shooting down their own argument because if slaughter was the cure, there wouldn’t be any abandoned horses or neglect to write about. They tell half truths to support their view. Yes, a horse was abandoned but so were their other animals and house. How is that the fault of the kill houses closing? It’s a slap in the face to good journalists that do the research and their homework before publishing. Another story they refused to retract was the nine horses that were abandoned on a farm. When we investigated, it ended up being one horse that the farm owner’s granddaughter thought she saw and it was from a date when the kill houses were still open. Do they really think we are that stupid? We have learned to take these ridiculous stories with a grain of salt. When people finally realize they’re being duped, they move on to the next theme. Unfortunately, many people read and believe the articles to be factual.

    As far as horses being commodities, aka livestock, ask yourself what purposes horses serve and what purposes livestock serve. Do you see cows running in the derby? Do you see mounted police riding pigs? Do you see livestock working with soldiers with head injuries regain their balance? Do you see livestock working with disabled children and adults as well as the autistic? How could anyone possible call that livestock? Can livestock provide any of those services or entertainment? If they’re livestock, why aren’t they following the regulations for livestock? Where are the health papers and chain of ownership? Why are they allowed drugs that are prohibited for livestock? If the pro side wants them treated like livestock, they will shut down the racing industry. The horses that race, perform and provide services need to be healthy and sound and treating them like livestock will prohibit the use of the necessary drugs they receive.

    When is someone going to write about what really lies beneath all this? When is someone going to take the AQHA to task about their over breeding practices? Their foals counts each year far outnumber the number of horses slaughtered. Their foal counts are over 100,000 more than the next highest foal counts, TBs. When is someone going to write about the mess the kill house owners have created? Since when do you get paid to dump an animal? Can you imagine the population explosion if humane facilities started paying owners to dump their dogs and cats? Doesn’t anyone see that the kill houses pay for horses to keep them coming? Do you honestly think we would have all these “unwanted” horses if the incentive was removed? They are paying people to be irresponsible. They are paying people to over breed. Doesn’t anyone see that?

    Instead of writing about what closing the slaughter houses has done, why not write about what the slaughter houses have done to this country and the mess the kill house owners have created?

    June 21, 2008
  2. mary martin #

    I advocate for one right for sentient nonhumans, which of course includes horses. That right is to not be used by another against their will, for profit or not. I want horses to have their own lives, not be accessories for us.

    I don't view horses as providing us with entertainment and services, though I see how you can take that perspective. What I see is humans who breed horses and cows and chickens so they can get something from them, whether that something is their flesh, their menstrual excretions (eggs), or their "entertainment value" by making them run or haul a carriage.

    I would very much like to see the end of the horse racing industry (and of course the dog racing industry). I do not want to see horses slaughtered here or transported elsewhere to be slaughtered. But I also don't want cows slaughtered here or transported elsewhere to be slaughtered. Each horse and cow has equal value to me, and each horse and cow has an interest in living her own life, however that may turn out, without human beings taking over her life to use her as part of theirs.

    June 21, 2008
  3. Lisa #

    While the legislation addresses horse slaughter for human consumption, the advocates know that this is where the profitable side of the business comes in. The profitability is not there for selling horsemeat to zoos (who would hardly consider it a delicasy and are not willing to pay top dollar), so in reality, banning horsemeat for human consumption effectively closes the industry down across the board.

    June 21, 2008
  4. "We won't always get published, we won't always be heard, but nothing will happen if we don't at least try."

    I like that 🙂

    June 21, 2008
  5. I'm glad you're making the distinction between animal welfare and animal rights. While animals deserve to be treated with considerable care (welfare) they don't have the same kind of rights as humans. Some groups, like HSUS, are trying to blur those lines claiming to care about animal welfare but really just working to give animals rights and in doing so abolish animal agriculture.

    June 25, 2008
  6. Chelsea,

    I'm glad I'm distinguishing between rights and and welfare, too. However we are on opposite sides of this issue. Though I don't think I've seen evidence that HSUS wants to abolish "animal agriculture" (can you show me some? I though they just talk about treating animals better before you kill them.), I can say that I absolutely want to see an end to the creation of sentient nonhumans as food for humans. In my mind, cows, who have the capacity for pleasure, pain, boredom and frustration, just like we do, have every right to a life of their own, just like we do.

    June 25, 2008
  7. Klint Rodgers #

    well these people all have point of views; howevere, i my self am a horse owner and i have had horses until they see the end of there days its a horrible sight looking at a horse every day that can barley walk in to water and can barley eat because their teeth are near gone. yes they have been in the family for a while, but i would rather see him put down. then i have had the wild broncie ones that will never be gental or able to be broke to ride. what do we do with them just turn them out to let them get caught up in a fense somewhere just to find them latter down the road? Or would it be better to make something of them, it sounds bad but dogs have to eat as well. you cant feed a dog grass. horses provide feed for our pets when some one can answer my questions then i will believe some of the thing people are saying. i'm not saying open the slaughter houses back up all i am saying is they are not a bad thing. horses are not pets they may be used for pleasure but that does not classify them as pets.

    October 16, 2008
  8. Bea Elliott #

    Hello Mr. Rodgers… I agree, horses are not "pets". I don't believe they should be made to haul people around in city carraiges, used in races, or that they are "entertainment" for rodeos, circuses or zoos. As soon as man discontinues breeding them for these and other purposes the less problems there will be in the disposal of their bodies.

    I do not believe horses or any animals for that matter, should be used as "commodities". The ones that already exist should be allowed to live out their natural lives and there should be a halt to creating any more.

    And no, dogs don't live on grass, but can thrive on a plant based diet just as well as humans can.

    October 16, 2008
  9. Davedrum #

    Klint Rodgers? Is that a friggin' cowboy name or WHAT! 😉

    October 16, 2008
  10. Emili #

    I Am a horse owner and have wanted to own horses my whole life, but the truth is I am not a horse owner; I am owned by horses. I treat my horses like hey are my children and care about them a great deal; however, I do believe the have a purpose just like you and me. If you didn't have a job and sat around collecting welfare and never made anything of yourself, you would be worthless in many peoples eyes. Its the same with horses. I believe horses should have jobs whether they race, work the ranch, or are slaughtered for dog food. Studies have shown dogs need the nutrients found in meat that they cant get from plant material. I'm not saying slaughter horses just for dog food but I do believe the slaughter houses have a purpose and since their closings the number of unwanted horses have skyrocketed and the neglect and abuse cases have as well. I understand its not just from the plants closing, but closing the plants didn't help. In addition the HSUS and PETA would see a horse standing in an open field and scream abuse, but the truth of the matter is, they just need something to bitch about.

    February 5, 2009
  11. Mary Martin #

    Thanks for stopping by Emili.

    You wrote: "I believe horses should have jobs whether they race, work the ranch, or are slaughtered for dog food. Studies have shown dogs need the nutrients found in meat that they cant get from plant material."

    I couldn't disagree with you more about the first sentence, and the second is factually incorrect as there are plenty of dogs who thrive as vegans, and there are about a dozen vegan foods available online and in stores. Dogs are not in fact obligate carnivores. That means they do not need to eat the flesh of other animals in order to survive.

    As for HSUS and PETA, neither of which I support, needing something "to bitch about," in my mind, 10 billion animals being slaughtered each year for no good reason (as we don't need to eat them in order to survive) is worth "bitching" about.

    All day long.

    Those of us who believe animals should be free of our domination, control and exploitation don't have to look far for something to protest, boycott, or try to educate others about in the hopes that they will change their minds and their actions.

    February 5, 2009
  12. It's true that they are still slaughtering horses in the U.S. just not for human consumption. Not suprisingly there's a "facility" in Ocala – Florida's version of Kentucky's expansive horse breeding industry. If one searches "the meat they eat" – *warning* – the video will show that this operation stays busy. And of course they would – the area is saturated with folks constantly improving "breed lines", "better genetics" and "culling" the duds. In with the new, out with the old – so to speak.

    The horse flesh supplies most of Florida's captive carnivorous animals in circuses, zoos and other profit oriented habitats… The big cats, lions and tigers need to be fed. And for a couple of hundred bucks, Ocala's horse ranchers are more than happy to oblige. Caged animals just perpetuate the whole nasty business.

    But try telling the enthusiastic Ringling fan or Bush Gardens patron that they are supporting horse slaughter and they haven't got a clue what you mean.

    February 6, 2009

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS