Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My response to Dr. Golab of the AVMA on her pro-slaughter stance regarding The American Horse Slaughter Protection Amendment

It's no secret I am deeply involved in trying to end horse slaughter in America. One of my colleagues recently received this letter in response to an email she'd sent to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). It inspired outrage in me. This organization is charged with looking out for the welfare of our nations companion animals and livestock.

You'll find Dr. Golab's email at the bottom of the post and my response just below here.

Dr. Golab,

Despite your words to the contrary, it is very clear that the AVMA’s focus on the AHSPA is to insure the continuation of horse slaughter in America.

I would like to remind everyone of the language in the Veterinarian’s Oath:

The Veterinarian’s Oath:

"Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.

"I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.

"I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence." (end of oath)

I think is safe to say the slaughter process is terrifying and inhumane for the horses. We’ve all seen the videos. The horses suffer a great deal throughout the process. It’s certainly contrary to the Oath to perpetuate the suffering of animals, but by opposing the ban on slaughter, that is exactly what the AVMA are doing.

The AVMA should, in all reality be at the forefront of supporters for the ban of horse slaughter. They should be working to find alternative, humane solutions for the equines currently termed “un-wanted.” They could be offering reasonably priced euthanasia clinics and education to backyard breeders. The AVMA should be working to “relieve suffering,” not to support it!

Instead, Washington insiders inform us that the AVMA is being funded by certain agriculture lobbying groups with very deep pockets. Just recently, Senator Larry Craig was (allegedly) given $9000K to go before the Senate to put a hold on S311 (AHSPA). The Senator’s career is essentially over and was before he placed the hold on S 311. Apparently the cash cushions the fall.

One also has to question how many equine vets actually are members of the AVMA. The AVMA is an organization that is voluntary to join. Obviously, there are many more small animal vets in the US the large animal vets. My own vet - incredible with cats and dogs - admits to being uncomfortable around horses. It would be very interesting to know what percentage of the AVMA members are large animal vets, and what percentage of the entire large animal vet population are members of the AVMA. Is the AVMA really representative of equine veterinarians across our nation?

The AVMA and other pro-slaughter proponents are also fortunate that the economy is in a downturn and much of the country has suffered from drought. It was driven the cost of feeding horses way up. Because of mad cow disease, horse meat is a premium in Belgium. The Cattleman’s Association receives money for each horse slaughtered on American soil. The AVMA works hand in glove with the Cattleman’s you begin to see the association between the AVMA and their pro-slaughter stance? It’s far more profitable to kill them here, in the US, thus the USDA is suddenly very concerned about horses being transported out of the US.

The reality is that I am on the front lines. I volunteer weekly at a rescue full of “unwanted” horses. I have attended the auction at New Holland Pennsylvania and seen the killer buyers picking them by the pound. The horses at New Holland, Sugarcreek, Shipshewana and Fallon and the like are very much “wanted” horses. The kill buyers are there weekly filling their trucks with the heaviest, healthiest, meatiest horses they can find. I have the benefit of working each week with horses pulled from the slaughterhouse lines. These horses are not mean, old or dangerous. Many need some time off from a work or racing related injury. I am astounded by how much trust these creatures still have when they arrive at the rescue after the grueling trip to the auction or feedlot. These horses are rehabbed, in some cases retrained, rehomed and given a new career. Often they become the apple of a little girls eye or a therapy horse working with autistic children. Some go on to rewarding show careers and some become pasture pets. The allegations that the vast majority of these horses are “problem” horses is nothing less than bunk.

It is interesting to me to hear the USDA say even if the ban on slaughter is passed, the horses will still be transported across the border, simply with a different stated purpose than slaughter. That can and will certainly happen in some instances. Of course meth is made is some rural kitchens and we know that’s not easily eradicated. Do we throw up our hands and say, well, we can only stop some of it, so why bother trying? There are also differing tariff costs depending on what the animal entering the country is going to be used for. It is significantly more expensive to transport a horse into a foreign country for a horse show than it is to bring in horses for slaughter. The difference in tariff costs, the cost of transportation and other factors will dictate how hard the kill buyers will work to get around the system.

Additionally, according to the USDA, in 2006 138,000 American horses were slaughtered for human consumption in either Mexico, Canada or the US. The same stats show that 33,000 less American horses were slaughtered in 2007. Despite allegations by pro-slaughter proponents, reports of horses being abandoned in the streets have been exaggerated, if not down right invented.

Dr. Cordes, of the USDA, says "One of the most daunting things about all of this is, once a horse crosses the border, it is no longer a U.S. horse. It becomes a Mexican horse. It loses its identity, it loses its citizenship, it loses its ownership."

Doesn’t that alone as a Veterinarian upset the AVMA members?

This is the most perplexing statement of all:

He goes on to say "It's really a matter of supply and demand. These horses are going to go across the border, one way or another," Dr. Cordes said, adding that the $5 million allocated in the horse slaughter prevention legislation for enforcement purposes isn't adequate to secure the borders. "It doesn't even come close," he said.

(Does that mean that horses and everything else passes freely across our borders without inspection daily? How frightening...)

Make no mistake about it – the AVMA is not concerned with the welfare of horses. They are once again paying homage to the almighty dollar.

It’s akin to saying we won’t fight terrorism because we can’t stop it all. It simply defies reason. We can’t end all crime; we can’t end all humanity. We can’t make the AVMA prevent the suffering of horses. But we can sure as hell try.


From Dr. Golab:

Thank you for your contact regarding the AVMA's position on the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act.

The AVMA's focus in opposing the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act has nothing to with support for horse slaughter or the plants associated with that business. It has everything to do with ensuring the welfare of horses. The American Horse Slaugher Prevention Act is a well-intentioned, but sadly misconceived bill. Having said this, the proponents of the AHSPA are definitely having an effect. Unfortunately, it's an extremely negative one for the welfare of horses.

The efforts of pro-AHSPA advocates have been effective in removing slaughter in the US as an option for unwanted horses. Has this stopped the slaughter of American horses for human consumption? NO, definitely not.

What has been the result is that, according to the USDA Market News Service (Las Cruces, NM), 1687 horses have been transported across the US border and into Mexico from January 1 through January 17, 2008. During the same time period last year, 653 horses were transported into Mexico for slaughter—an increase of 158%. Similarly, the number of horses transported to Mexico for ‘breeding purposes’ during this was 216, compared to 8 horses in 2007. Overall, 1961 horses have been transported across the border and into Mexico during the first three weeks of 2008, compared to 706 horses during the same time period in 2007—an increase of 178%. Back in September of 2007, when we compared 2006 to 2007 equine transport for Mexican slaughter figures, we saw a one-year increase in 2007 of 486%!

This number of horses obstentively transported for slaughter will decrease if the AHSPA passes, but ONLY because transporters will identify another purpose as their reason for transporting horses across the border. This may already be happening, based on the marked increase in the number of horses transported for declared reasons other than slaughter. Transporters could claim that horses are being transported for sale as riding, working, or pleasure horses, only to cross the border and sell them for slaughter. Catching violators and enforcing the act would be nearly impossible. Transport of horses to slaughter within the United States is regulated, as is the slaughter process itself, but regulatory authority ends when horses cross the border into another country. They may be loaded in large numbers on trailers, transported longer distances, deprived of food or water, and killed using inhumane methods. Passage of the AHSPA will prevent horses from being slaughtered in the US, under regulatory controls; it will NOT stop American horses from being slaughtered outside of the US without benefit of such regulatory oversight.

To see the USDA’s statistics on the number of horses exported to Mexico, go to Interestingly, when the 2001 final rule on the commercial transportation of equines to slaughter was published in the Federal Register, the USDA stated in its supplementary information a concern that closure of United States horse slaughter facilities would lead to a situation in which horses intended for slaughter “will be trucked to feedlots in Canada or Mexico, ostensibly as saddle horses, then go to slaughter. If that happens, we will have no jurisdiction over those movements because our statutory authority to regulate is limited to the commercial transport of horses to slaughter and to movements to slaughter within the United States.” Based on current information, this concern has become a real crisis. To read the 2001 final rule and its background information, go to

Unfortunately the organizations whose information you have provided below have continued to misrepresent the AVMA and its approach to this issue, despite the AVMA's repeated requests that such misinformation be corrected. As an example, the statement: "Documents held by the AWI show that the AVMA is part of a coalition founded by the companies that own the defunct domestic slaughterhouses..." which appears below is inaccurate. In fact, the Horse Welfare Coalition (HWC) was formed in 2004 by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), the AVMA, and the Animal Welfare Council, not by the slaughter plants. Although the slaughter plants offered funding to the HWC, it was specifically declined because the concern of the HWC was the welfare of horses, not the fate of the slaughter plants. The HWC stopped meeting in mid- to late-2006. The Web site,, was initiated and maintained by the slaughter plants. The HWC granted the website permission to post related issue briefs, but did not fund, support, or otherwise contribute to the website. Currently, the website is being maintained by a lobbying group hired by the slaughter industry, and the AVMA does not and never has contributed to or provided funding for its maintenance.

For accurate information about the AVMA's position on the AHSPA and its efforts directed toward addressing the problem of unwanted horses, please visit: and the Unwanted horse Coalition Website at: .

For accurate answers to questions regarding the AVMA and its relationship to the HSVMA, please visit:


Gail C. Golab, PhD, DVM
Director, Animal Welfare Division
American Veterinary Medical Association

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