Although horse slaughter plants in the United States were closed in 2007, more than 160,000 horses were sent from the U.S. to cruel deaths in Mexico and Canada last year.

About 1,500 horses are shipped annually from Maine to two slaughterhouses in Quebec for human consumption in various European and Asian countries.

As a border state, Maine has become a transport pipeline for horses destined for slaughter. This is only one red flag as to why Mainers should support L.D. 1286, “An Act to Protect Maine Communities by Prohibiting Horse Slaughter for Human Consumption and the Transport of Horses for Slaughter,” which is now being heard in the Legislature.

Before horses are even subjected to the terrors of slaughter, they are transported in often unsafe, overcrowded trailers, going hours without rest or proper food and water. They may incur a variety of injuries, such as gouged eyes and broken bones.

An undercover investigation by the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition revealed that in even state-of-the-art horse slaughter facilities, at least 40 percent of the horses in the stun box were not immediately rendered unconscious or revived after stunning.

Slaughter is not quick or painless. It is not a “humane” alternative for horses that might otherwise be subject to neglect and abuse.

Proponents say that horses going to slaughter are old and sickly. The fact is that more than 90 percent of the horses that go to slaughter are healthy.

Alternatives to slaughter include retraining, rescues, reducing overbreeding, foster care, rehoming, education and assistance to owners and humane euthanasia.

Eating horse meat is cultural. While the thought of serving “My Friend Flicka” is disgusting to most Americans, others suggest it’s no different from eating beef or poultry.

The difference is that U.S. horses, unlike cows, chickens and pigs, are not raised for human consumption; they are raised for use in show, sport, work and recreation.

They also routinely receive drugs, both legal (e.g., vaccinations and de-wormers) and illegal (performance enhancers and painkillers), which taint their meat.

The New York Times has revealed that an average of 24 horses per week die at U.S. tracks, shot up with drugs to overcome injuries and pain.

Thousands are sold at auction for slaughter within weeks of their last race.

We have no system in place to track medications and treatments given to horses to ensure their meat is safe for human consumption.

Demand for horse meat is now uncertain because of the recent European scandals regarding the discovery of horse meat in beef products. That does not bode well for fledgling companies trying to bring slaughter back to the U.S., since they will be competing with multinational companies in what appears to be a shrinking market.

In addition, President Barack Obama’s budget proposal includes a request to remove federal funding for horse slaughter plant inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Given the current demand for cuts in government spending that drains taxpayer dollars, this should be an easy cut for political leaders to make.

Horse slaughter facilities will not reinvigorate local economies.

They have a documented history of failing to pay property taxes, incurring violations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Environmental Protection Agency rules, and ignoring fines related to work hazards, water and air pollution, wastewater infrastructure and improper disposal of carcasses and blood.

Jobs at these facilities are few in number, dangerous and low-paying. Communities that harbor these facilities often experience increased crime rates, lower property values and failure to attract other businesses. Local tax dollars, already being depleted, likely would be used for legal bills and expensive cleanups.

Why is the “unwanted horse” situation any different from our shelters with “unwanted” dogs, cats, puppies and kittens? Those that aren’t adopted are humanely euthanized; horses deserve the same peaceful end of life.

Eighty percent of Americans are against horse slaughter, and we believe legislators, once given the facts, will conclude that it is bad for the environment, bad for the communities, bad for human health, bad for workers and certainly bad for the horses.

I urge others to contact their state legislators and ask them to end Maine’s involvement in horse slaughter by supporting L.D. 1286.

Jayne Winters, of South China, is a board member of Maine Friends of Animals.

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