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Horse slaughter and the ethics of animal welfare



Peter Singer, citing bioscientist-philosopher types, suggested in the 1993 edition of his book How Are We to Live that humans are 'programmed to care only about ourselves and our relatives', and that there might be 'an unwavering adherence to the Cardinal Rule; never ask a person to act against his own self interest'.

Rachel King riding La Chica Bella wins race 3 the NSW Racehorse Owners Association Trophy during Sydney Racing at Royal Randwick Racecourse on 3 August 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)Singer went on, over years, to profile how the human ethical obligation extends our relational boundaries to other animals who inhabit the world we live in. He became one who chose not to consume animals in any direct or indirect way and who eschewed even undignified treatment of animals. Yes, Singer is vegan.

It is a relatively recent sociological development that many folk now understand that the animals we buy, breed and use for human purposes are entitled to be treated with respect and a personal acknowledgement that they can and do love as well as suffer, and that their needs and behaviours should be taken into account in terms of human lifestyle and consumer choices. Significant numbers of people support those who are willing to stand up for a duty to operationalise a basic concern for our shared home, including animal rights advocates. So long as they do not overly inconvenience the majority

On a philosophical level, men, women and policy makers have gone beyond an emotional understanding that witnessing/turning a blind eye to cruelty to other humans has a debasing effect, and so does toleration of cruel, frightening and brutal treatment of the animals that share our lives. This is no longer only a religious sensitivity.

Nietsche, for example, was driven insane when, on the streets of his Turin, he came across a crowd cheering on a man who was beating his cart horse to death. The philosopher beloved of Nazism (which misunderstood him), who had repudiated Christian compassion and claimed to be atheist, burst into tears and threw his arms around the suffering animal's neck, then was taken home where he stripped off his clothes and started raving.

In our more recent times, researchers have established a link between cruelty to animals and pathological developments in those who perpetrate it and go on to harm partners, children, and even commit random killings of strangers, if not sexual sadism.

When the ABC published footage of outrageously cruel treatment of healthy former racehorses in a Queensland abattoir, everyone, including the sensitive racing industry about to embark on the spring racing season, said they were appalled. In my experience, entering a working abattoir offers a glimpse of hell. But knackers' yards are especially ghastly, because they are not properly regulated, and the victims are found from all kinds of sources and after lifetimes of human relationships.


"Plenty has been said in defensive response to the reality of cruel slaughter of unremunerative racehorses but the facts are clear. The racing industry has always known that knackeries are brutal and inhumane."


With any animal that can relate, as far as we can tell from our limited insights, to a human being or other species, there is the possibility of enduring reciprocated dependency and emotional warmth.

I believe that this revelation, by no means the first, has brought into the public eye the dirty secret about the business of horse breeding and trading, gambling and associated industries. They are vast, and they are important.

As human society changes, so does the awareness of 'relative' self-interest. Many animals have become human helpmeets, protectors, coworkers and guardians, and yet we have not fully understood the ethical dimensions of this. We use not just rabbits and rats but horses and cats to experiment upon for the advancement of cosmetic and surgical procedures, drug and pharmaceutical efficacy and to make money.

Horses have long been critical components of societies, from farming, herding, war-making and transportation to helping disabled and injured to heal and riding for pleasure; and of course for providing the means for profitable gambling, developing veterinary empires, trainers, breeders and of course those who deal with the messy ending of the unsuccessful products. Plenty has been said in defensive response to the reality of cruel slaughter of unremunerative racehorses but the facts are clear. The racing industry has always known that knackeries are brutal and inhumane. It has always claimed to love the means of production. It has failed to make them safe.

Racing Australia, Racing Victoria, Racing NSW, the Victorian government and corporate bookmakers all support having a national register to track every horse bred for racing from the time it is foaled to when it dies. It can't do that when it doesn't have efficient and well funded measures. Once horses retire, they can let them drift away from sight. And now we have seen what happens.

Thoroughbred breeders and others concerned with the 'costs' of doing the job properly are already lobbying. Delicately, of course. But they cannot shunt the human cost of failure to protect sentient and beautiful animals on to those breeders and trainers who do love their animals and care.

One of those, a friend who breeds racehorses, has to my knowledge agonised over selling or leasing or parting with their animals, and when one had to be destroyed through illness or injury had the animal brought in for a specially delicious breakfast and a vet who ended its life, quickly and quietly at home, where they then buried it. I asked for their comment on these latest revelations and cite it verbatim:

'I am delighted that this has brought needed, effective change, resulting in people realising that, when I sell a horse, I can be confident and that my horse will be safe and protected whether that is in training, stables, a pony club or an auction house or retirement paddock: that someone will be watching over them, that they are looked after, and if they can't be kept given a respectful and dignified death, as I would ask for myself. Sentient beings deserve respect because of the joy they bring to our lives.'



Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer.

Main image: Rachel King riding La Chica Bella wins race 3 the NSW Racehorse Owners Association Trophy during Sydney Racing at Royal Randwick Racecourse on 3 August 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Moira Rayner, horse racing, animal welfare



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Existing comments

Christians, together with many people of other faiths and many non-believers, would disagree with the premise that we are "programmed to care only about ourselves and our relatives." Wanton harm to or destruction of life in any form is to be deplored, none more so than that inflicted on unborn and other vulnerable humans.

John RD | 22 October 2019  

I'm not sure anyone would describe me as an animal lover. That's not to say that I don't admire and respect their autonomy and inherent value. Horse racing is a big industry in this country and therefore powerful interests may be inclined to protect the status quo. Being cruel to animals is a sign of a damaged humanity. "Under the sun, the horse's eye/is a glass dome over a petal, the pupil a raised bud/of pollinated velvet, bisected;/the horizon in it. Almost 360 -/a narrow corridor behind/and one spot in front of her nose, are blind." (Structure of the Horse's Eye, Elizabeth Campbell).

Pam | 22 October 2019  

Moira you are right, the sadistic barbarism of Meramist abattoir workers was appalling. A wake up call to us all. Is this how they treat Kangaroo, goats, cows, chickens when they are slaughtered? RSPCA outlines 6 rules for treatment of livestock at abattoirs: "1.Standard operating procedures to prevent risks to animal welfare. 2.Design and maintenance of facilities and equipment to ensure minimal interference or stress to livestock. 3.All staff required to handle livestock are competent. Livestock that are weak, ill or injured are identified and promptly treated. 4 Livestock are managed to minimise stress and injuries. 5.Restraint, stunning and slaughter procedures are carried out humanely and effectively." Meramist appear to have breached every rule in the book. Oh the agony of Nietsche to protect that horse . Yet "Horse meat forms a significant part of the culinary traditions of many countries, particularly in Europe, South America and Asia. The top eight countries consume about 4.7 million horses a year. ... being eaten. " Wikipedia. Tongans, Japanese (eat it raw) , Iceland (refused to adopt Chritianity for a long time because the missionaries exhorted them to stop eating horsemeat) all consume it. Sadly your friends humane standards appear to be an aberration.

francis Armstrong | 22 October 2019  

Thank you Moira for your excellent article. Horse Racing is not the Sport of Kings, it is a gambling industry with cruelty built in to its business model: as per all animal industries. I look forward to the time when animals are respected as sentient and relational beings.

Carmel | 22 October 2019  

Yet another example, among many (underpayment of wages, sub-standard new buildings etc. etc.) of what happens without proper government regulation and inspection. Wherever a journalist, or government/parliament inquiry looks these days we see (and some seem surprised) that there many people who don't do the right thing. It was because of these sort of abuses - food adulteration etc. - that we realised that we needed government regulation and enforcement. Decades of 'efficiency dividends', cutbacks, redundancies and outsourcing have brought us to the present mess. The solution is obvious.

Russell | 22 October 2019  

If people are committing such acts of cruelty to animals, it certainly is insight to their abnormal psychology. The Nazis behaved like this towards the Jews in WW2, so where are the checks and balances in today's society that ensure the knacker yards don't become the future processing centres for the elderly, the sick, the disabled and anyone not cutting it in a capitalist society??

Thelma Nishkee | 22 October 2019  

It sometimes seems that we are programmed to be concerned only with our selves.But, I think this is an aspect of narcissism which we all have but which we can work on with the help of others. It in effect causes alienation with other people. other lives and with the land itself if not with our own selves.An Anglican priest William Inge said :"We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form" which your story of the humans relationship with horses in the racing industry shows.

Rev Dr Graham Bull | 22 October 2019  

Q: Can you illustrate tokenism in three words? A: “Remember, gamble responsibly.”

Gerard Hore | 22 October 2019  

these beautiful animals are a beautiful gift from god surely they are allowed to die with dignity not be slaughtered

maryellen flynn | 23 October 2019  

I am reminded of the experience of refugees working in an abattoir in Melbourne. They told me of the shock of seeing pregnant animals killed and their stomachs cut open to take out the "babies". These men said that it was a rule that pregnant animals not be killed. They also said that the machine delivering animals for slaughter was supposed to run at a certain rate so that the slaughterers could ensure a quick clean kill but they said this was always speeded up so that some animals were not quickly killed. They told me that the bosses knew when the union inspectors were coming and slowed the machine accordingly for a few days. They hated the work. There was bullying and threatening behaviour which lead them to leave. Not many of us see the dark side of production. We should not be surprised about the cruelty to horses. Question is what are we going to do about it?

Pamela curr | 23 October 2019  

Beautifully written Moira. Bringing cruelty to the light benefits us all, as it develops a world that is more congenial to kindness.

Karyn. P | 23 October 2019  

I saw the ABC program and while I have empathy for the various horses and some disdain for the malfunctions of the abattoir I find it difficult to comprehend that it takes shocking vision to present the facts of the expose. I think it was a bit unbalanced to suggest that horses with $40k or even $250k prize money deserve special consideration; few horse traders would knowingly enter a syndicate to part own a race horse with such low financial results...after training, care and logistics it would be running at a loss. Some accept this, most do not. Perhaps an equine pension fund and superannuation system would be effective to ensure that animals were financed in their retirement; it might sound silly but the only thing that will protect older animals rejected from breeding is continuing funding and there would be a myriad of brokers just falling over themselves to administer the money... Problem is that horses may race 3 - 5 years but then live until 20 or 25, so there's a lot of years needing to be agisted and funded...and if activists have their way no future racing industry funding.

Ray | 24 October 2019  

I have come to realise that it is not only the present human species that is made "in the image of God".

John Bunyan | 26 October 2019  

Thank you for your article regarding the cruelty of racehorses or any horses for that matter. They should be humanely killed on their own property first and then taken to the abbatoir. People are naive of course ANIMALS suffer just live exports THEY HAVE NO VOICE, MONEY is the voice. Protest and exposure to such things will hopefully slowly reduce the amount of people who support such industries

Grace | 27 October 2019  

Thank you for this thoughtful contribution. This supply chain is filthy all the way. Horses can be trucked inhumanely for 24 hours with no feed and water. As there is no oversight, we can be sure it exceeds this in many cases. Horses at Meramist require a HVD, these are often not accurate or falsified. Our horses are full of drugs that pose a danger to human health, one being phenylbutazone that can cause irreversible anaemia in some people. The Biosecurity investigation has finished and hopefully we will hear about prosecutions in the near future.

Margaret | 07 March 2020  

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