The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
About 20 years ago, on an extended trip through Vietnam, I stumbled upon a vista of human resourcefulness that was so startling and taboo that it rocked my world. While the site of chickens and various birds crammed into a bamboo cage is very much commonplace in much of Asia, a stack of baskets, piled one on top of another, loaded with kittens and puppies seemed like something ripped from the pages of some twisted fairytale. These very unfortunate dogs and cats were not just suffering mistreatment and harsh conditions while on their way to a happy home in a loving house, no, they were very clearly intended for human consumption. This is an idea that is very much unthinkable, as well as socially and culturally prohibited, in western culture, as dogs and cats have become our beloved pets and family, but not so much in Vietnam.
While dogs and cats are less likely to be on the dinner table than at the foot of the dinner table begging for scraps in the majority of the world, horsemeat is a fairly common source of protein in more than a few corners of the globe. In places like Mexico, Argentina, and Central Asia, horsemeat is a customary staple. But certainly not here in the U.S. where horses are nearly as revered as cats and dogs, and perish the thought of slaughtering one of our equine friends for dinner. But the fate of some unlucky American horses is about to change.
In November, President Obama signed a bill that included a provision to reopen American slaughterhouses for horses after a five-year ban on inspecting the facilities, which forced their closure (yes, there was horse slaughtering being done in this country as recent as 2006). But there a few things to note on this development: first is that congress did not allocate any new money to pay for horse meat inspections, which opponents claim could cost taxpayers $3 million to $5 million a year, which will force the already cash-strapped U.S.D.A. to come up with the funding all by itself. And, even though Time.com reported that the lifting of the horsemeat ban could mean plentiful amounts of horsemeat for all Americans, there is no indication whatsoever that any of this meat will make it to the American market. The intent behind renewing this stalled industry is to provide a valuable export to horsemeat loving countries that are willing to pay for imported grade-A American horse.
Regardless of whether horse slaughtering will ever resume in earnest or whether the intended purpose of the slaughter brings horsemeat to American consumers remains to be seen, but to be sure the issue is very polarizing. It is not just Americans who hold a distaste for horsemeat. Many other cultures, including many devout Catholics and Jews, find the practice of slaughtering and eating horses to be extremely taboo. Even French actress and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot has spent years crusading against the eating of horse meat. That said, there are some practical rationalizations for slaughtering horses, according to some. Some of those in favor of regulated slaughter argue the practice is more humane than letting horses languish and suffer in old age. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, agrees that the ban had unintended consequences and led to additional suffering, according to the L.A. Times. Recently, many horses that would have been slaughtered in the U.S. have instead been shipped under inhumane conditions to Mexico and Canada, PETA told the Times. Some industrious ranchers frequently sold their unwanted and free-roaming horses to slaughterhouses. It helped cull the population, gave a seemingly purposeful ending to an animal’s life, and provided a few extra dollars to keep the ranching business going. Despite the practical arguments, the slaugher of horses is not likely to go over well with animal rights advocates or horse-lovers. In your opinion, is horse slaughter something best left in the 20th century, or to countries in dire straits? Is the taboo strong enough to overlook the practicality of the venture? Or do we currently have such a surplus of meat, that the slaughter of horses seems just excessive?