Horse for the U.S.A.

Marc Champion writes editorials on international affairs. He was previously Istanbul bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal. He was also an editor at the Financial Times, the editor-in-chief of the Moscow Times and a correspondent for the Independent in Washington, the Balkans and Moscow. He is based in London.
Read More.
a | A

All things die, including horses. The attempt to prevent the U.S. from reopening slaughterhouses for the animals is surely foolish.

Consider what has happened since the last horses were slaughtered in the U.S. in 2007, after Congress banned the Food and Drug Administration from funding the inspection of horse slaughterhouses. Since then, as a Bloomberg News story reports today, the number of horses that the U.S. ships out of the country to be slaughtered in other North American countries more than doubled, to 197,442.

So in our anxiety to be more humane, we have subjected the animals to a long and inhumane truck ride before they meet the same end in other countries. There were at last count 4.6 million horses living in the U.S. and many of them will die or be killed each year. That's why not all animal rights groups supported the U.S. decision to close down horse slaughterhouses in the first place. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals opposed it, believing it would increase suffering for horses.

Consider then the legislation that's being proposed in order to prevent those unintended consequences from continuing. There's a bill to ban the slaughter of horses as well as their transport for slaughter abroad.

Who is going to regulate whether a buyer of a U.S. horses in Mexico then sells them on to a slaughterhouse? If there is a profitable market for the meat then middlemen will provide the service. And why not? I understand taking the position that killing any animal is cruel, but not that it's OK to kill cattle for meat but not horses. This is about our own sentimentality, not the animals.

Then there is the argument about the medicines and drugs horses are given that may be dangerous to human health. If we learned anything from the recent horsemeat scare in Europe it is that there is not much to be scared of, unless you eat more than 500 burgers containing 100 percent horsemeat in a day. There are much bigger safety threats to worry about in the food that we eat.

Finally, if slaughterhouses are reopened, won't the U.S. face the same problem with horsemeat getting substituted for beef? Maybe. Maybe it will anyhow.

Most of the meat substitution in Europe came from countries other than those where the food was being consumed. It resulted from acts of fraud and was a response to the fact that horsemeat is cheaper than beef. Many of the horsemeat TV meals sold as beef in the U.K. were produced by a French company, which bought the meat from a Cyprus-registered firm, which relabelled meat from a horse slaughterhouse in Romania. The U.S. imports such processed foods, too.

The ban on FDA inspections of horse slaughterhouses was lifted in 2011. The FDA should restart the inspections so the horsemeat can be processed. The U.S. should regulate its own horsemeat industry, ensure the animals are killed in a humane way, regulate drug contamination as needed and leave it up to consumers to decide whether they think a horse is a pet or a domesticated animal they'd like to eat.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Marc Champion at