Steve Chapman

What difference did the ban make? In 2006, the average horse traveled 550 miles on its way to the last corral. Today, it can expect to journey 753 miles -- an increase of 203 miles. As GAO put it, "Horses are traveling farther to meet the same end in foreign horse-slaughtering facilities where U.S. humane slaughtering protections do not apply."

The horses spared this fate are not necessarily luckier. When 17 state veterinarians were polled on horse welfare, all said it's gotten worse since the slaughter ban. According to the National Association of Counties, the number of abandoned horses has risen -- just as opponents warned it would. If an owner can't sell the horse for a decent sum and lacks the money to have it euthanized, he may leave it somewhere to meet death by starvation, disease or predators.

The Humane Society of the United States -- which, for the record, does invaluable work to make factory farms more humane -- wants to solve the problem by banning the export of live horses to become food. But that would only promote more neglect and abandonment. Domestic processing, subject to strong anti-cruelty laws, would offer a better outcome.

Rescue operations would be a more congenial answer, but they can't do enough. They currently care for only about 6,000 horses nationwide, and most are at capacity. They couldn't possibly accommodate the 166,000 shipped for slaughter each year. Those unwanted animals have to go somewhere.

That's why it made sense for Congress to restore funds for inspecting horse slaughterhouses and for Oklahoma to allow them. It was always apparent the ban was bad for owners. Now we know it's no favor to horses.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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