On June 22, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) proposed several recommendations for USDA to consider and implement in the next four years to improve horse welfare in the U.S. as a result of the numerous unintended consequences of the 2007 ban on horses slaughter. In short, the recommendations, which were all accepted by USDA, address how the ban on horse slaughter has inadvertently escalated horse abuse and destroyed the equine market in the U.S.
Recommendations seek to improve horse welfare and business in the U.S. by improving inspections, transportation, handling, paperwork, and export agreements and standards with Canada and Mexico. The complete list of recommendations and considerations announced by the GAO can be found here. I had the opportunity to visit with Lisa Shames, director for Food Safety and Issues at GAO, who explains the recommendations and how the organization will monitor USDA for compliance.
“USDA has agreed with GAO’s recommendations and has noted specific actions it will take to implement them. Commercial transportation will be addressed, especially as it pertains to horses being hauled to Canada and Mexico. We will see a more formal agreement to have oversight over horse slaughter moving out of this country. What we are seeing is horses in transit for longer periods of time, and once these animals cross the border, they are no longer under the protection of U.S. law,” says Shames.
Shames explained that the ban on horse slaughter has proven harmful to horse welfare in the U.S.
“Certainly when Congress imposed the ban, they had the best of intentions; however, there have been some unintended consequences. We have analyzed these through our work at GAO. For example, the price of horses has gone down, figured through an extensive regression analysis. Lower-priced horses are most impacted by this ban, and they are traveling greater distances to get across the border.”
Another call to action will be increased documentation of these horses traveling outside of the country.
“We have found that many forms being returned from Canada and Mexico were missing key bits of information such as the dates, time and distance traveled before harvest. We felt if USDA had that information and could analyze it better, they would be able to do better for the horses. We hope now that the USDA has this information, they will leverage other agency resources such as APHIS to assist them with implementation.”
Shames added that GAO will closely monitor USDA progress on implementing these recommendations.
“Typically, GAO follows up on whether or not agencies have or have not taken action, and this inspection takes places for a four-year extended period. In a year, we will go back to USDA and ask what they have done and get the usual documentation. At that point, we would make an interpretation on whether things have been implemented or not.”
While the equine industry has taken a direct hit in the last couple of years - both in the aspects of animal welfare and business - Shames believes these recommendations will help.
“Based on these recommendations, horse welfare will definitely improve. I believe these implementations will be both constructive and positive. Ultimately, we made a matter for Congress to either reconsider prohibition or consider a ban on the export of horses. We normally don’t do these kind of things, but there was enough significance in the impacts of this ban to have Congress consider making some serious changes.”
What’s it going to take for today’s consumers to recognize the unintended consequences of the horse slaughter ban? How bad does horse welfare have to get before they start paying attention? Do you believe the U.S. should ban the exportation of horses or reinstate horse slaughter?