Montana News

Feb 7, 2012 12:59 PM by Brittany Wooley (KTVQ Billings)

Horse slaughter issue stirs Montanans emotions

BILLINGS- Horse processing plants could soon be operating in the United States following a five year hiatus and there's a possibility of one popping up close to home.

The nation's lawmakers effectively banned horse slaughter on U.S. soil in 2006, but Congress lifted that ban in a spending bill signed into law in late November.

Horses have been the lifeblood of the Gines' family for generations.

"We raise our children on horses, and I'd rather have my kids on horse back than their heads in the computer or video game for sure," horse outfitter Colby Gines said.

Gines says in the last few years he's seen more abandoned and neglected horses than ever before with animals left untended in pastures and dumped off at horse sales or in the middle of nowhere.

"At $150 to $180 for a ton of hay, it has become so expensive to keep them, horses are not getting fed, they're not getting treated right. To me it is more inhumane to not go to slaughter or processing," he said.

A report by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office concludes that the ban did not stop the slaughter of horses in the United States, it just shifter the practice internationally.

"When the U.S. Slaughter plants were open, there were still horses being abandoned and neglected, and even now, as they are going over the borders to Mexico and Canada, we're still seeing neglect and abandonment," Montana State Director of the Humane Society of the United States, Wendy Hergenraeder, said.

The GAO report says that state and local governments and animal welfare groups have reported an increase in neglect and abandonment incidents since 2007, although there is no comprehensive data on the issue.

The GAO also says there has been a drop in the price of horses most likely to go to processing, something the owner of a Billings horse sale says has far reaching effects.

"We would go to sales across Montana and South Dakota and Wyoming, and so many of those sales are non-existent because it's not worth the hassle. They can't pay employees and have the horse sale when a horse brings $80 or $100. I mean, it's just such a trickle down. It's a trickle down to that town and that community and that economy," Billings Livestock Commission Horse Sales Manager Jann Parker explained.

"There's a little over 12 million horses in the U.S. [and] a little over 100,000 that are slaughtered. That's 1% of the entire horse industry. They're blaming the entire fall of the horse market on 1% of the industry. Which, again, doesn't even make sense because that same amount is being slaughtered," equine veterinarian Dr. Lisa Jacobson said.

The issue of horse processing has drawn more controversy than other animals in large part because of the attitude Americans have toward horses. A number of surveys conclude that a vast majority of the American public opposes kill houses while most in the horse community support the processing plants.

We'll have more on the push for processing plants closer to home and also hear from anti-slaughter advocates during part two of our special series.

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