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Suggested Equine Infrastructure Changes...

More ideas and out-of-the-box thoughts on how the industry might evolve to better sustain the horse population.

Veterinary Services

     The cost of veterinary care for horses is cumbersome to most owners.   More affordable options need to be available to owners to encourage proper care and alternatives. Many feel that the AAEP and local veterinarians should offer free or discounted services to unwanted horses. It is important to recognize that the economics of modern veterinarians is challenging. Starting salaries for veterinarians has declined by 13%, while at the same time the cost of veterinary schools has risen by 35%. (Segal, 2013). Most veterinarians face high student loans payments that limit their ability to sustain their own modest lifestyle. It is unrealistic to expect veterinarians to be able to bear the full burden of veterinary care for unwanted horses. Communities should rally together to offer reduced costs clinics for routine care, castrations and humane euthanasia of aging or unhealthy horses. In addition, the government’s current subsidies and tax incentives for veterinarians should be reevaluated based on the need to care for the growing number of unwanted horses.

Reengineering Rescue

     The existing rescue facilities have the capacity to manage only 13% of the current population of the unwanted horses (Hollcom & Stull, 2010). There are hundreds of equine rescue organizations in this country, most are overwhelmed with horses and dangerously underfunded. More funding would help increase the capacity so to achieve equilibrium between the supply and demand for stalls. It would also benefit equine professionals by creating new jobs and opportunities in the equine industry.

     There is much debate as to whether horses are livestock and subject to slaughter or “companion animals” and should receive treatment similar to other companion animals like dogs and cats. Each year, 5 to 7 million companion animals are surrendered to shelters in the United States (Humane Society of the United States, 2013). Sadly, animals that do not find homes within a given period of time are euthanized. The Humane Society (2013) reports 3 to 4 million companion animals are euthanized in shelters each year.

     If we were to treat horses as we do companion animals, each horse would be provided an opportunity to find a home for a given period of time. If no home was found, the horse would be humanely euthanized.

     Since many veterinary drugs commonly used on horses are clearly labeled with the phrase, "not for use in horses intended for food,” many argue that most American horses are unfit for human consumption regardless of various attempts to drug test horses for carcinogens. Changing regulations by the European Union may soon require all U.S. horses to be kept in a drug free feedlot for six months. Imagine the deplorable conditions the horses will have to endure if left to fend for themselves in Canadian and Mexican feedlots.

     The most dangerous drug given to horses is phenylbutazone (bute). This drug is commonly given to horses as aspirin is given to humans. Opinions are conflicting regarding the carcinogenicity of phenylbutazone in animals and humans. Some researchers argue it is not harmful in managed dosages (Maekawa et al., 1987; Tennant,1993). However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an order prohibiting use of phenylbutazone in food-producing animals (2013). The European Union considers phenylbutazone unsafe for humans and is working to eliminate those horses treated with phenylbutazone from the supply chain.

     There is a widely accepted notion that “the total number of horses going to slaughter each year represents only 1% of the total horse population in the United States. This percentage of horses could easily be absorbed by existing resources (Hazard, 2008).” This annual growth rate is understated as it does not account for the cumulative growth that will occur each year as the horse population will need to account for horse that would have been processed in previous years (Lenz, 2008).

     In recent years, horse rescue organizations have emerged to provide care, funding or suitable accommodations for unwanted horses in both the private and public sector. The exact number of rescue organizations, and their capacity is unknown but estimates by the AAEP indicate current rescue and retirement organizations could rescue, retire or find alternative homes for no more than 13,000 horses per year (Lenz, 2008; Hall, 2007). Most rescue organizations are at full or over capacity and are force to turn away 38% of the horses that are brought to them (United Horse Coalition, 2009).

     According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, a total of 2700 facilities would be needed for the first year of a full ban, with an assumption that there are 30 horses in each facility. They suggest that another 2700 new facilities could be needed each subsequent year if the number of additional unwanted horses (Bump, 2008).  

     Further, many rescue organizations exist solely to rescue horses from an untimely and inhumane death. Donors are often motivated to donate funds for similar reasons. If slaughter is no longer a threat and horse’s lives are no longer in imminent danger, rescues may exist only to rescue irresponsible owners from the financial burden of owning a horse. This may make rescuing horses and donating towards horse rescues far less attractive. It must be considered that the existing rescue infrastructure in the U.S. may change; and as a result we need to either find new funding sources to attract new entrants to the rescue business or look for alternate ways to humanly euthanize horses and economically dispose of their carcasses.

     Many warn that the horse industry cannot absorb the large number of horses diverted from slaughter if the SAFE Act bans slaughter and the transports of horses to slaughter (Cowan, 2012). Others warn that the rescues organizations will also not be able to manage the volume of horses (AVMA, 2013). However, human euthanasia and rendering does have capacity (Meeker, 2008) and will provide business opportunities and jobs for people currently involved in the slaughter industry.

Rendering Plants

     All states regulate the disposal of animal carcasses. There are many options including burial, composting, incineration, rendering and bio-digestion. The cost of these methods varies between $75 and $2000. According to the Unwanted Horse Coalition (2009), the cost of euthanasia and carcass disposal is $385 per horse.Rendering is one of the less expensive options, ranging between $75 and $250 per horse (North, Bailey, & Ward, 2005).

     The United States has an estimated 300 rendering plants located that process over 54 million pounds of animals materials (bones, blood, hides, offal, feathers, road kill, spoiled grocery meat, restaurant grease, and euthanized dogs, cats, horses) annually. The process produces a variety of products including tallow, lard, animal feed, protein meal, cosmetics, and mechanical lubricants. Rendering is environmentally friendly and available in 50 states in the U.S. (Meeker & Hamilton, 2006).

     Rendering facilities throughout the U.S. offer varied services including pick-up services for animal carcasses and onsite euthanasia. Yet, not all rendering plants accept horses because of the additional cost and restrictions of processing large animals. Many plants also do not accept horses treated with Sodium Phenobarbital as it limits their use for animal feeds.

     It is estimated that passing legislation that eliminates horse slaughter should increase the rendering of horses by less than 10%. Despite the current limitations with some rendering facilities, they do have the potential to manage the increased volume of animals in a cost effective, environmentally friendly and humane way (Meeker, 2008).

     Meeker and Hamilton (2006) explain that “renderers are innovative and competitive and will adapt to changes in both regulations and the market. Regulatory agencies will determine whether certain raw materials can be used for animal feed. Customer expectations, consumer demand, and economic considerations will dictate product specifications and prices.” In a free market, if there is a financial opportunity for renderers to accept and process horses, they will make the necessary capital investments in order to process larger animals.