The 2018 Farm Bill, overall, was a big win for the agriculture industry. Even more so, the horse industry is counting the recently passed bill as a huge win, thanks to the official designation of horses as livestock.
Why is this important?
“Livestock is most commonly considered to be animals kept or raised in a farm or ranch setting and used in a commercial enterprise. The raising of livestock is an agricultural endeavor that promotes the preservation of green space and a way of life that many in today’s society desire”, according to the American Horse Council.
While most states already classify horses as livestock, to see this come from the federal level is a triumph, not only for horse owners, but for all animal owners alike. This provides protection against movements from animal rights groups who would like to eliminate animal agriculture or even animal ownership.
Year after year, animal rights groups try to find ways to increase regulations on or eliminate animal agriculture. One tactic that has been used, especially with horses, is to designate them as pets. Being classified as a pet would require horses to fall under regulations that are in place for companion pets such as dogs and cats. While horses can be great companions and provide emotional support for their owners, horses are very different from a typical companion animal.
The American Horse Council outlines changes to humane laws and other possible effects that would happen if horses were ever taken out of the livestock category:
- Possible loss of state and federal support monies. Now, the care and regulation of horses and horse related activities come under the state and federal agriculture departments. The USDA provides funds for research into several equine diseases, enforces the Horse Protection Act, and is developing methods to enforce the Safe Commercial Transportation of Equine to Slaughter Act. There is a possibility of losing funding for research, regulation and disaster relief.
- Humane Laws. All states have animal anti-cruelty laws. Two categories exist, laws for livestock and laws for non-livestock. Livestock laws are intended to ensure humane treatment and care, while still allowing for use of the animal. If horses lose livestock status, livestock anti-cruelty laws will no longer apply to them.
- Limited Liability Laws. Some state laws are not limited to horses, but encompass all farm animals. If horses are no longer considered livestock, these laws may no longer apply to them. Ironically, horse owners worked to get these laws passed, since they realize the horse is a potentially dangerous animal and are aware of the risks of dealing with them.
- Tax issues. Currently, under federal law commercial horse breeders and owners are treated as farmers. Since horses are considered as livestock, state sales and excise tax rates are often advantageous. If horse breeding ceases to be an agricultural endeavor, taxes could increase.
Other pro-agriculture groups and equine organizations, such as Protect the Harvest and the American Quarter Horse Association have also applauded this official designation provided in the 2018 Farm Bill.
A large sector of the equine industry lies with the performance horses. Because of their large value, many horse owners choose to insure these horses individually to cover costs of injuries, illness, or even death. Likewise, many horse owners with a large number of horses include them in their farm/ranch coverage. Because insurance practices such as these aren’t as common for other livestock species, many horse owners were concerned that this official designation would change their insurance policies.
“Farm Bureau Insurance has always considered equines as livestock for all insurance policies”, said Tegan Shaw, a Farm Bureau Insurance Agent in Salt Lake City. “And equine insurance lists a specific horse for coverage, so it’s been business as usual.”
Justin Sharp, an American National Insurance Agent who specifies in equine insurance, echoed Shaw’s comments.
“Because this change happened so recently, we haven’t seen any changes yet,” Sharp said. “However, I don’t see this causing any problems with equine insurance policies because our policies are set up to cover individual horses.”
Most equine insurance policies are very similar as they either insure each horse as an individual or the horses are covered in a large livestock group under a single farm coverage policy. Because of this, there should not be any major changes in insurance coverage due to the official livestock classification but check with your insurance provider to be sure.
Not only does this classification by the federal government protect the equine industry, but it also allows for many doors to be opened or rather reopened in the case of opening slaughter houses to horses and other herd management practices.
While many in the U.S. may shudder at the idea of consuming horse meat, allowing horses to go to slaughter houses is about much more than using them for consumption. Older horses in poor condition are often kept alive past what is humanly acceptable, or they are put down and the owners have to pay fees to have them put in their local landfill, as it is illegal in most states to bury such animals. Instead these animals could be used to provide many useful products and by-products.
Allowing horses to go to slaughter houses would also help with the growing wild horse problem that we have in the west. The wild horse numbers are growing out of control, and because of animal rights groups and other interests, the BLM is unable to manage the herds per the guidelines in the Wild Horse and Burro Act. The horses and the environment in these areas suffer because of this. These horses that are in poor condition or who are irreversibly lame could be used for good, rather than suffering. The herds would be kept at manageable levels as well, which would allow for the environment to thrive and sustain these animals. The livestock classification also helps with other management practices that are often viewed as “inhumane” to pet owners.
Whichever way you choose to view this, the federal government making this classification is a great thing for the equine industry in more ways than one. This is a huge step in the right direction for all animal agriculture as well.