The April 5 op-ed by Peter Albertson, "Why the fuss about horse meat?" missed the key reasons why there is indeed a ruckus: primarily that horse meat is profoundly toxic and inhumanely produced.
Horses -- particularly racehorses, an estimated 60 percent of whom end up at slaughter -- are walking pharmacies. "Eating them is about as healthful as eating food contaminated with DDT," says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, professor of clinical sciences at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.
Antibiotics used in cattle have been approved for use in food animals. By contrast, horses are administered not only antibiotics, but a pharmacy of drugs banned from the food chain, including hormones, steroids, coagulants, sedatives, parasiticides and potent painkillers. Horses are raised as athletes and long-lived companions; they are liberally medicated to enhance performance and address injuries and chronic conditions.
The other major reason 80 percent of all Americans and 90 percent of Massachusetts residents surveyed are opposed to horse slaughter for human consumption is the inevitable suffering inflicted on an animal that has spent its life serving humans. To most it is considered the moral equivalent of sending former service dogs to dog meat factories.
To get Albertson’s "dry, soft meat," horses suffer unspeakable cruelty from auction to feedlot to transport, then during the kill process itself. Two USDA responses to FOIA requests produced horrifying images -- including a 900-page report of violations -- of horses arriving at former U.S. horse slaughter plants dead (sometimes trampled to death), or with limbs torn off, broken necks, and eyes bludgeoned (sometimes admittedly gauged by transporters to reduce fighting).
Due to equine physiology and temperament, it is difficult to slaughter horses humanely in factory settings, as the organization, Veterinarians for Equine Welfare, has testified. According to Dr. Lester Castro Friedlander, a former USDA Supervisory Veterinary Medical Officer, equine brain placement, which is further back than bovine’s, requires a precise and penetrating shot to render a horse unconscious. As video investigations have shown, this rarely happens on the first shot -- in violation of the 1958 Humane Slaughter Act -- and results in multiple shots; terrified, thrashing horses; and many horses being vivisected while still conscious.
The writer is a horse owner, horse rescue volunteer, and the chair of the Massachusetts Equine Welfare Council. She is also a member of the Berkshire Disaster Animal Response Team.