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Anheuser-Busch says its Missouri farms will no longer amputate the tails of Budweiser's Clydesdales

The Budweiser Clydesdale horses appear outside the site of a 2016 Presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.
Paul J. Richards
AFP via Getty Images
The Budweiser Clydesdale horses appear outside the site of a 2016 Presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.

The St. Louis-based beermaker says it will end the practice known as tail docking after it came under pressure by animal rights group PETA.

Anheuser-Busch says it will end the practice of amputating the tails of its signature Budweiser Clydesdale horses, following a pressure campaign from the animal rights group PETA.

The beer company said the practice of equine tail docking was discontinued earlier this year, according to a statement from an Anheuser-Busch spokesperson.

PETA had earlier this year launched a campaign criticizing the beermaker's practices, including an unofficial Super Bowl commercial — a sharp rebuke to Budweiser's decades-spanning custom of running Super Bowl ads featuring the horses towing its beer wagons.

The animal rights organization posted video it said had been recorded at Warm Springs Ranch in Missouri, the official breeding facility for Budweiser's Clydesdales, and Grant's Farm, a Busch family property — both facilities that can be visited by the public. The video shows horses at the farms rapidly swinging their shortened tails, apparently swatting away insects with limited success.

The practice of docking has its roots is an old tradition meant to keep a horse's tail from becoming tangled in the harness or equipment, but today it is mainly done for cosmetic purposes, Equus magazine notes. For public events, the tails on Budweiser Clydesdales are formed into buns and adorned with ribbons."

"Docking may be done either surgically or by ligature—placing rubber rings or other binders around the end of the tail to cause tissue to die," Kate Hepworth-Warren, assistant professor of veterinary medicine at North Carolina State University, writes in Equus. "Surgical removal must be done by a licensed veterinarian in states where the procedure is legal. Pain relating to the procedure itself is not the primary welfare issue; instead the concern is the permanent disfigurement that leaves the horse unable to swat flies or use his tail to communicate."

Hepworth-Warren notes that the practice is banned or regulated in 11 U.S. states and many European countries. Among the countries banning it is Belgium, home to Budweiser's parent company AB InBev.

Docking is among the tail alterations condemned by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners, asserting that when performed for cosmetic purposes, the procedure does not contribute to the health or welfare of the horse.

A tail is indeed important for a horse's welfare, as it is its instrument for swatting away biting insects.

"In just one day, a horse can lose a cup of blood to biting insects such as mosquitoes," wrote David L. Hu, associate professor of mechanical engineering and biology at Georgia Institute of Technology, in a 2018 article in Scientific American. "Not only do the mosquitoes take blood, but they also give disease. Malaria, Zika virus, dengue fever are just a few of them. Keeping even a fraction of the mosquitoes away could have a big impact on a horse's health."

The news of Budweiser's ending the practice of docking came alongside an announcement that the care and treatment for its Clydesdales and Dalmatians had been certified by American Humane.

The animal welfare organization said it has worked with the beer company on "identifying and completing improvements to add to the quality of care for the Budweiser Clydesdales and Dalmatians," including discontinuing the practice of equine tail docking.

Budweiser has battled significant bad press this year. Following backlash to its sponsorship of an Instagram video by trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney, Bud Light saw sales of the beer tank.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
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