Will killing horses in the US reduce their suffering?

Writing in Bloomberg, Marc Champion has a thought-provoking, but controversial take on horse meat, noting that the ban of horse slaughterhouses in the US has increased suffering for the animals:

Consider what has happened since the last horses were slaughtered in the U.S. in 2007, after Congress banned the Food and Drug Administration from funding the inspection of horse slaughterhouses. Since then, as a Bloomberg News story reports today, the number of horses that the U.S. ships out of the country to be slaughtered in other North American countries more than doubled, to 197,442.
So in our anxiety to be more humane, we have subjected the animals to a long and inhumane truck ride before they meet the same end in other countries.

I'm curious to hear what readers think of this debate. Champion is saying that these horses will die whether they are slaughtered in the United States or not, so we should be the ones to do the slaughtering. Champion also adds that some animal-rights groups, including PETA opposed the 2007 legislation because of concerns it would increase suffering.

Since it is what I've written about most lately, I couldn't help see his argument being similar to the debate over Canadian tar sands oil and the Keystone XL pipeline. Proponents of the pipeline argue that whether we allow the pipe or not, the oil from Canada's tar sands will be burned either way, so we might as well benefit from oil and burn it here. Similarly, elsewhere in the climate debate, you'll hear some argue that because China is still going to burn coal, why should we stop?

On the other hand, aren't these arguments -- "the horses will die either way, why don't we just kill them" or the "this oil will be burned either way, we might as well be the ones to burn it" -- like saying that because some immoral thing is happening elsewhere, we should do it here, as well?

Both Champion and proponents of burning the tar sands oil seem to disregard the morality of the choice. Sure, banning horse slaughterhouses doesn't mean cows or pigs or chickens aren't still being killed. And sure, our rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline doesn't mean the tar sands won't be extracted and burned somewhere else. But those choices are moral ones, choosing whether or not we want to be involved in something we find distasteful or unjust.

However, as Champion notes, exporting horses for slaughter increases their suffering. Similarly, shipping tar sands oil by rail instead of pipeline increases the c02 released during transport. Are these reasons to allow horse slaughter in the US or the building of the pipeline? I could see how one could argue that they are.

Of course, there are usually more than two options in a debate, so on the issue of animal suffering, rather than conceding that the only way to reduce animal suffering is to kill them locally, we should ask if there are ways to reduce this suffering without slaughtering the animals here. Are there improvements in truck design that would make the transport more tolerable? To his credit, he mentions a piece of legislation that would ban their export, thus eliminating the debate over suffering caused by long distance transport.

Clearly there are a lot of angles to the debate, so I'm curious to hear what you think. Let us know in the comments below.

PHOTO: The above photo comes from TreeHugger Jaymi Heimbuch's collection of wild mustangs that are in danger of disappearing.

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