While animal lovers and humane organizations, including The Humane Society of the United States, argue in federal court in California for an injunction to stop the USDA from issuing “grants of inspection” to U.S. horse slaughterhouses, equines are at the center of a much different controversy in a U.S. District Court in Texas this week.
In a lawsuit set for trial Tuesday, the federal court in Amarillo is being asked by two horsemen to render a decision that will force the American Quarter Horse Association to register cloned horses and their offspring, arguing that the AQHA is violating antitrust law by refusing to do so.
“A decision favoring the plaintiffs--Jason Abraham of Canadian, Texas, and Gregg Veneklasen of Amarillo--could clear the way for clones to compete in sanctioned quarter horse races at scores of racetracks in the U.S. and elsewhere,” writes Mike Brunker, Investigations Editor for NBC News
While the public debate rages over the physical effects of cloning, the bottom line is, of course, money. Brunker states that quarter-horse racing is the third most popular form of equine racing--after thoroughbred and standard-bred racing--and generated more than $300 million in betting at U.S. racetracks in 2012.
Quarter horses are also popular for rodeo events because of their athleticism and are an agile horse bred for speed rather than stamina, he writes.
Brunker provides an enlightening example of why cloning could become increasingly important to the future of horse racing. He describes that in many cases clones would be “the genetic duplicates of such quarter horse royalty as Tailor Fit, a two-time world champion -- and a gelding -- who now has a young copy named Pure Tailor Fit.” A stallion like Pure Taylor Fit can bring in $1,500 or more per mating, he states.
Regardless of the U.S. District Court’s decision in Texas, Brunker writes that pro-cloning supporters predict that horse clones will soon be appearing in equine sporting venues other than racing -- including non-breed specific rodeo competitions, polo matches and equestrian events leading up to the 2014 Olympics.
Cloning critics say allowing the procedure could concentrate the genetic pool and undermine efforts to improve the breed. The AQHA states on its website that it plans to “vigorously defend its ban,” arguing that it is a voluntary, private association and therefore retains the right to set rules favored by a majority of its members--86% of whom indicated in a recent survey that they oppose cloning.
The Association contends that accepting clones would “render useless its use of DNA to track horses’ lineage, because clones would possess the same DNA as the original.”
In 2006, a Texas company called ViaGen impregnated a mare with a cloned embryo produced from the DNA of Royal Blue Boon, an animal that earned its owner hundreds of thousands of dollars in competition, NBC reported.
Micah McKinney, an AQHA member in Texas, states. “I think that copying what already has been done would be going backward in the progression toward a better breed,” reports Brunker.
Art Caplan, head of the medical ethics division at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, describes the lawsuit as an “ethically complex” case.
HORSE SLAUGHTERHOUSES RECEIVE USDA APPROVAL
There is no mention in the horse-cloning discussion of the impact it could have on the increasing number of horses which are unwanted and end up in slaughterhouses—many of which are reportedly discards of the racing industry.
Horse meat slaughterhouses were banned in the U.S. during the Bush administration, but on November 18, 2011, the ban was lifted by President Obama when he signed the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012. This followed a government investigation that claimed the domestic ban had shifted the site of butchery of horses to Mexico and Canada, resulting in increased abuse or neglect of horses shipped beyond the reach of U.S. law, the Washington Times reported.
An estimated 130,000 U.S. horses are shipped annually to slaughter in Canada and Mexico, according to Reuters.
The USDA has now said it is again ready to conduct inspections should anyone plan to open a horse-slaughter plant in the U.S. It just announced it has issued “grants of inspection” for plants in New Mexico and Iowa and anticipates approval of a Missouri slaughterhouse application within days.
Horse meat cannot be sold as food in the United States, but it can be exported. Horse meat is sold for human consumption in China, Russia, Mexico and other foreign nations and is sometimes used as feed for zoo animals, Reuters reports.
If it is true that death in a slaughterhouse is the ultimate fate of many race horses that have lost their usefulness to a greedy industry, what potential effect—positive or negative--could cloning have on this troubling issue?