Preventing the lethal control and slaughter of America’s wild horses and burros
By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
In recent years, understanding our firm and absolute opposition to horse slaughter in the United States and to the cruelty and inefficiency of the Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse and burro work, frustrated members of Congress have been pressing the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund to advance a solution-focused proposal. And now, with the ASPCA, Return to Freedom and other groups, we’ve done so.
The facts are simple enough. The proposal we’ve put forth provides more humane approaches. Lethal control of horses and burros, whether by slaughter or mass killing, is not up for discussion — instead, it’s expressly prohibited. The proposal also commits the government to advance fertility control initiatives, fund adoption efforts, and provide larger, more humane pasture facilities for horses and burros currently in holding facilities and taken off the range. As a result of the changes this proposal recommends, there will be no perpetual warehousing of horses and burros, no slaughter, and no more stalemate on the path towards long-term humane resolution of their plight.
Together, our two organizations were among the primary architects of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, to ban horse slaughter in the United States and halt the export of American horses for slaughter abroad, and we are among its strongest current backers. We’ve drawn a hard line in fighting to include language in federal spending bills that defunds horse slaughter for human consumption in the United States, by denying funds for USDA inspection of horse slaughterhouses. We will continue to push for passage of the SAFE Act, and fight for language to defund horse slaughter for human consumption whenever and wherever necessary.
Over the past decade, we have filed and won multiple lawsuits to block horse slaughter, and to hold BLM accountable for its duties to wild horses under federal law. Along with other horse advocates, we are currently suing to block the federal government from selling wild horses directly to killer buyers who want to ship American horses out of the country for human consumption.
The issue of horse slaughter is not limited to the United States, and we are engaged at the international level as well. Following the 2013 horsemeat scandal in the European Union, staff from the HSUS and our affiliate, Humane Society International, mounted a campaign to educate consumers and EU government officials about the dangers of consuming horsemeat (intentionally, or not) derived from American horses, who are routinely treated with a vast array of medications, the use of which is prohibited in food-producing animals in the EU. In December 2014, the EU suspended imports of horsemeat from Mexico after a series of official European Commission audits consistently identified serious problems with the lack of adequate veterinary records and traceability of horses slaughtered for EU export — the majority of which originated in the United States. And we’re still pressing for a moratorium covering Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay where similar traceability problems with horsemeat exports persist.
Finally, we’ve long led the campaign to expand and normalize the use of immunocontraception, and championed research, validation and implementation of the contraceptive product Zonastat-H (PZP). In pursuit of a successful immunocontraception strategy, we’ve worked with the Dietrich W. Botstiber Foundation to launch the Botstiber Institute for Wildlife Fertility Control, and forged a partnership with Purdue University to create a single shot, three- to four-year immunocontraception vaccine for wild horses and burros. Over the years we have learned more about the best way to ensure the effectiveness of PZP, and we are confident that, combined with the other aspects of the proposal, this critical component will help ensure a more humane future for our nation’s wild horses and burros.
But every now and again, a position we’ve taken puts us in some degree of tension with other organizations. That’s not unusual in any movement, and it is our hope and sincere expectation that, in time, any humane advocates doubtful about the wisdom and value of the plan we’ve forged will come to appreciate its soundness.
Everyone with experience in politics understands the need for realism in the face of a difficult challenge whose solutions have proven elusive. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a more contentious question in the realm of animal protection than the fate of these majestic residents of America’s western rangelands. That’s one of the reasons why the current proposal is so striking. This time, horse advocates, ranching interests and other stakeholders have set aside their differences in the interests of an approach intended to secure the long-term future of wild horses and burros without using lethal methods such as mass killing and slaughter. It was not easy, and took several years as these stakeholders did not all start in the same place. Eventually, however, they did find a common set of goals — an outcome that promises to break the current deadlock over these iconic animals’ long-term fate. The alternative, as we heard from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, was moving toward slaughter or mass killing, and we’ve seen moves to make that a reality, such as the president requesting the authority to use “all tools,” including lethal ones, and the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board voting to support a plan to reach its population target for wild horses and burros within eight years by killing healthy animals and via unlimited sales. That is unacceptable, and that’s why this proposal merits the consideration and support of the U.S. Congress as well as the general public. It deserves to be funded and implemented as soon as practicable, and if approved, we will push for its annual renewal.
Our nation has an obligation to wild horses and burros, one codified in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. And now, we have a genuine chance to make good on the promise of that legislation, to provide these extraordinary wild denizens of the American West a chance to survive and thrive.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.
As a nation, we owe kindness and awe to these beasts.