Charlie Stenholm allowed that many in his audience at the recent Texas Ag Forum in Austin would not agree with his stance on what he described as an emotional issue. He said it's not something that's likely to end up in the next farm law.

But Stenholm, former U.S. Representative and ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee and now an agriculture consultant in Washington, said denying horse owners the option of taking unwanted horses to a processing plant, where they are slaughtered and shipped to foreign countries for use as food, restricts property rights.

“The best way to end a horse's life is humanely, with a veterinarian present,” Stenholm said. That's mandated in processing plants, he said.

Horses are not processed for food for consumption in the United States. Stenholm said 80 percent of the horse industry agrees that processing plants should be one option for disposing of unwanted horses. “Any horse owner who does not choose to receive a value for (unwanted) horses don't have to,” he said. “But it's a property rights issue similar to water rights.”

He said if horse owners prefer to consider their animals as pets they would forfeit the tax deductions they receive for farm animals. “The Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have a different opinion. But if they care about the welfare of horses, what do they recommend we do with more than 100,000 if we don't maintain a market of last resort?” Stenholm said many wild horses end up on feedlots, ranches and care facilities, at taxpayer expense. “Can we afford that?”

He said people don't like to think about what it's like for an animal to die a natural death in the wild. “It's often gruesome,” he said.

He said it is important to the horse industry, which counts more than 9 million horses at a value of more than $9 billion, that the Texas law (banning processing) be repealed. “Horse owners have the best interest of their animals in mind,” he said. “We should return the option of selling to a processing plant. This is an emotional issue.”