Buyers and curious onlookers, out for a Friday night, are packed into the stadium seats, a sprawling crowd in dun, denim and worn black, the dusty palette of western ranching. The auctioneer's call rolls and bobs, stopping occasionally.
Come on, he says, this is a really nice little horse.
But the bids aren't climbing. Of the 140 horses sold, the biggest fetch of the night is a paint mare for
By midnight, the audience at the Springfield
Livestock Marketing Center has thinned out, because no one really wants
to watch what's coming. "Kill buyers" have waited around for the
"loose" horses — the horses owners have decided are not worth training
or have reached the end of their useful lives. They are herded into the
ring without riders, some of them with bones poking through their
winter coats, others shiny and fat. By
Earlier this year,
Viebrock's bill, which has sparked outrage in anti-slaughter circles, has the support of the state's director of agriculture,
On a platform overlooking a corral holding wretched-looking, rail-thin horses, Gripka drags on a cigarette. "This is what happens when you don't have slaughterhouses," she says. "I'd rather see these horses feed somebody than get in this kind of shape."
In 2007, the last U.S. horse slaughter facility, in
Since the closure, American kill buyers have instead sent horses to
Viebrock hopes his bill will restart the industry on American soil, specifically to
The aim is to provide a funding mechanism that would reimburse the
"In theory, you could have a state facility," said
Still, Viebrock and his supporters are optimistic. They say it will come down to how the law is interpreted.
"There are a lot of folks around who would like it to go forward," Hagler said.
The influence of the closures on the horse industry
is heavily debated. Slaughter advocates say since slaughterhouses have
closed, the number of unwanted and neglected horses has shot up. In
contrast, Anti-slaughter groups, including the
Meanwhile, each side blames the other for the growing cases of horse neglect, even as they debate whether the number of excess horses is growing at all.
A report by the
"If you look at what's been happening since these facilities have closed, it's really telling," said
Any increase could likely be the consequence of the larger economic picture. With the rising cost of feed and money stretched thin, many owners are trying to sell their horses, and after failing to find buyers in a flooded market, abandoning the horses or giving them to rescue groups.
Horse traders say opening up slaughterhouses will cure the unwanted horse problem — and boost the struggling equine industry at the same time.
"Having just one or two plants, that would bring up
the competitive market for horses that have no occupational value,"
The thinking, at least at the
"These horses are old, they're crippled. Even they used to bring
Anti-slaughter advocates don't buy that logic.
"The reason the horses aren't getting any money is because there is no money, slaughter or no slaughter," said
Brown pointed to federal figures that show the
number of horses being slaughtered in the U.S. before the plant
closures — roughly 100,000 — is about the same as the number being
"The pro-slaughter hypothesis is driven largely by the agendas of those who absolutely support slaughter...," Brown said. "They do a very good job of tying the abuse and neglect of horses to the end of domestic slaughter."
Putting their economic arguments aside, pro-slaughter advocates say closing slaughterhouses in the country not only has pushed the trade over the border, but caused more horses to suffer.
"It's put horses in a far less humane condition," Hagler said. "It's far more humane to have horses harvested in
There have been dozens of documented cases of
neglect and abuse in horse trailers, where horses were packed in for
long distances for shipment to
Pro-slaughter advocates say that provides an argument for bringing horse slaughter back to
She and other anti-slaughter advocates say the problem lies with reckless breeders and with owners who don't understand the demands of ownership, including the cost of euthanasia or burial.
"A lot of backyard breeders have run the industry down," Maxwell said. "It's irresponsible breeders, not the slaughter industry being gone."
Brown and others point out horses are not bred for food, and most performance horses are given substances Canadian and European regulatory agencies have banned, or plan to ban, from their food systems.
"The reason the cow is alive is because we want to eat it. The reason the horse is alive is because we want it to win the Kentucky Derby. That's very different," Brown said.
The anti-slaughter movement is backing federal legislation that will ban the shipment of horse meat for human consumption altogether, which would end the trade of American horse meat.
That, they say, would be the ultimate solution.
"We need euthanasia programs," Brown said. "Obviously we need more responsible ownership, and we're only going to get that if we stop slaughter.
(c) 2010, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.