Anheuser-Busch, the brewer of Budweiser and Bud Light, said it will stop amputating the tails of its iconic Budweiser Clydesdale horses, following a campaign from animal rights group PETA.
Docking, which is banned in some states and countries, traditionally involves cutting off the end of the tailbone of a horse to prevent the tail from interfering with harness and carriage equipment, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
The Clydesdale, a tall breed of horse originating from the River Clyde valley in Scotland, has long been used by Budweiser in its advertising, sometimes making appearances during Super Bowl commercials. PETA launched its campaign against docking just before the NFL championship game last February.
PETA declared victory in its pressure campaign against Anheuser-Busch and said video footage had shown Budweiser Clydesdales trying in vain to use the remnants of their tails to shoo away biting, disease-spreading insects. Other opponents of the practice say that it prevents the horse from preventing insects from biting them—such as mosquitoes.
"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 Scientific American article published in 2018. "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."
And Kate Hepworth-Warren, assistant professor of veterinary medicine at North Carolina State University, wrote that "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," according to an article she wrote for Equis. The practice is illegal in 11 states and in a number of European countries, she noted.
The article added that "surgical removal must be done by a licensed veterinarian in states where the procedure is legal," adding that "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."
However, proponents of docking say that it can improve cleanliness of the tail and make harnessing the horse easier. It also serves as a cosmetic purpose for certain breeds.
Anheuser-Busch and particularly its subsidiary Bud Light has dealt with significant bad press this year. After Bud Light sponsored a social media video by a transgender activist, the company has seen sales of the beer drop in consecutive months.
In April, transgender social media influencer Dylan Mulvaney posted a personalized Bud Light can during a March Madness promotion, prompting conservative musicians and celebrities to suggest consumers boycott the brand. In one instance, musician Kid Rock posted a social media video of himself shooting cans of Bud Light, while several prominent country singers indicated they won't sell the beer while on tour.
During its most recent earnings report, Anheuser-Busch's U.S. division reported a loss of $395 million year-over-year amid the boycott. Over a recent four-week period ending in early September, data show Bud Light's sales slid about 27 percent compared with the previous year, it was reported.
Several analysts and a former executive, meanwhile, warned in mid-September that Bud Light may see its retailer shelf space decline as the beer's sales figures haven't returned to where they once were since the boycott was initiated.
"During a busy shopping period on a Friday or Saturday night, if you don't have the beer available cold on the shelf, consumers pick something else," former Anheuser-Busch executive Anson Frericks, a frequent critic of his former company, told ABC News, saying that shelf space is the "single largest determinant of sales in a store."
Anheuser-Busch did not return a request for comment on the report about potentially declining shelf space.
Over the summer, Bud Light was dethroned as the No. 1-selling beer in the U.S. after about two decades in the top spot. Modelo Especial, a beer owned by New York-based Constellation Brands, is now the top-selling beer in America, according to reports citing sales data.
Days before its earnings report, Anheuser-Busch also announced that it would lay off about 350 employees at its corporate offices in the United States.“While we never take these decisions lightly, we want to ensure that our organization continues to be set for future long-term success,” Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth said in an August statement. “These corporate structure changes will enable our teams to focus on what we do best—brewing great beer for everyone and earning our place in the moments that matter.”