Commentary: He shoots horses, doesn’t he?

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Horse meat isn’t for everybody—although Europe’s recent scandal has revealed that pretty much everyone in several countries over there actually has eaten it, albeit unwittingly.

But as a recent Bloomberg News story noted, there are a few horse meat lovers in this country who qualify as “true believers.”

One such person is 54-year-old Tim Sappington, the ex-livestock buyer for Roswell, N.M.-based Valley Meat, a former beef plant where management is trying to reconfigure its kill line for horses in a bid to become the first U.S. horse slaughterhouse since the last remaining horse plant in Illinois closed more than six years ago.

Killing horses (or racehorses) for meat has always been legal. In 2006, however, after intensive lobbying from animal rights activists, Congress barred USDA from funding federal inspections of horse slaughterhouses, effectively shutting down the country’s few remaining horse plants.

According to the Bloomberg story, Sappington allegedly keeps a locker full of meat from horses he personally slaughters and butchers into equine burgers and steaks. That alone would put him in the crosshairs of animal rights activists, who’ve made the ban on horse slaughter one of their primary—and to date—most successful campaigns.

But he had to take his apparent distaste for the animal rights community’s opposition straight over the top.

As of Friday, Sappington is under investigation for animal cruelty charges in connection with a video ( he made in which he taunts animal activists with an f-bomb, just prior to shooting a horse in the head and killing it. Animal rights activists have already geared up to protest what they’re labeling as a “hate crime” and to use the incident as the centerpiece of an effort to halt the planned re-opening of Valley Meat as a horse slaughterhouse.

Sappington has been fired by Valley Meat, but the fallout from his act of wanton stupidity won’t stop there.

Hard-won progress: DOA

As soon as the video went viral, activists launched a national sob fest, openly weeping over the death of “a beautiful animal.”

“We were horrified by the video, and we are glad to hear that there’s an investigation going on,” Keith Dane, director of equine protection for the Humane Society of the United States, told Bloomberg News. “It appears this [video] was made for publicity’s sake and to taunt animal lovers.”

Sappington claimed he killed the horse for his own consumption, later skinning and gutting the animal. “I killed that animal for my consumption,” he told Bloomberg News. “If I had shot that thing in the guts or the legs or beat it and left it in the pasture for the coyotes to get at, it’d be a different discussion. I shot that for my human, my personal, consumption.”

Whether or not Valley Meat is successful in its lawsuit to force USDA to okay horse inspection at its plant, the damage has been done. Nobody can watch that video and not go squeamish. And activists are openly trying to project that any resumption of horse slaughter would result in more scenes exactly like Sappington’s video.

In 2012, the U.S. exported 197,442 live horses to Mexico and Canada as food animals, more than double the number in 2007. Since many of those animals actually physically pass through the Land of Enchantment, Valley Meat is hoping to tap into that market.

USDA hasn’t responded to the company’s application, nor those of several horsemeat processing applicants in other states. Bipartisan opposition in Congress to the re-start of horse slaughter remains potent, and Sappington’s ill-advised video won’t soften any Member’s stance on the subject.

Worst of all, he feeds directly into the distorted picture activists wish to convince the public represents reality: A self-styled “gunslinger” heartlessly shooting an otherwise perfectly healthy, innocent horse in the head, just to fill up his home freezer with horsemeat.

As clueless and distanced from meat production as most Americans are, activists really didn’t need a snuff video like this one to make their case.

But thanks to an equally clueless nimrod whose brain’s as dead as the horse he claims he’s now dining on, it’s back to the beginning for the industry in selling the public on its commitment to humane slaughter.

Way to kill off a whole lot of hard-earned progress, Mr. Sappington.

Hope your horse burgers were worth it.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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Beverly Levitt    
Florida  |  March, 28, 2013 at 01:41 AM

When our cattle and pork exports are destroyed for exporting tainted horse meat globally of which the EU has already caught on to, just wondering as a 5th generation farmer, how many beef farmers will be grinning then? The single most ignorant move this Nation could make for our meat industry. Just plain STUPID.

Virginia  |  March, 28, 2013 at 06:06 AM

I have always said they don't care how many people they poison as long as they are making a buck. Make me wonder how safe our beef supply is? Here is the first warning to a horse killer from the FDA for falsified EID and the horse was positive for bute. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs - prohibited as well Phenylbutazone, known as "bute," is a veterinary drug only label-approved by the Food & Drug Administration for use by veterinarians in dogs and horses. It has been associated with debilitating conditions in humans and it is absolutely not permitted for use in food-producing animals. USDA/FSIS has conducted a special project to for this drug in selected bovine slaughter plants under federal inspection. An earlier pilot project by FSIS found traces less than 3% of the livestock selected for testing, sufficient cause for this special project. There is no tolerance for this drug in food-producing livestock, and they and their by-products are condemned when it is detected. Dairy producers must not use this drug in food-producing livestock and if it is found, those producers will be subject to FDA investigation and possible prosecution.

Michael J. Marsalek    
Bel Air, Maryland  |  March, 28, 2013 at 09:44 AM

During 30 years as a horse owner, I have experienced only once the extreme discomfort of having to hold a horse while the vet put him down. The vet charged approximately $300.00 for the call fee, drugs and service. Then it cost another $250.00 to have a renderer pick up and haul away the carcass. I can tell you from personal experience that having the horse put down by a licensed veterinarian is no more humane than what Tim Sappington did. And for those who object to sound & otherwise healthy animals going to slaughter, who among you would want to eat diseased or dying animals?

Vicki Johnson    
Canada  |  March, 28, 2013 at 10:05 AM

You are 100% correct Michael Marsalek.

Vicki Johnson    
Canada  |  March, 28, 2013 at 10:05 AM

You are 100% correct Michael Marsalek.

JD Golonka    
Colorado  |  March, 28, 2013 at 04:14 PM

Sure he maybe within his rights and all legal, but why does he have to cause grief for the entire industry. Some of the comments like about the vet, did he film the killing and use it to taunt anyone? From my point of view we as livestock producers have enough built in problems and do not need more, at least I dont. I am sure some will defend this whacko and I may have also when I was young,reckless and stupid

Texas  |  March, 28, 2013 at 05:35 PM

Hey Dan! "national sob fest." You are one cold dude. What is it about compassion and mercy you cowboys don't get? What a pathetic bunch.

Texas  |  March, 28, 2013 at 06:52 PM

Most horse owners that sell their horses do not want their horse slaughtered. Most horse owners want their horse to have a good long life with a good owner. The trickery of kill buyers at auctions should be stopped. I have seen those buyers outbid families trying to buy a horse for their kids. The kill buyers need to wear a sign saying - if I buy your horse, your horse will suffer and die. - The current owners can make a choice if their horse should be killed. Their are horse owners that want that last buck from their horse and really don't care if the horse is going to suffer and die.

Oregon  |  March, 28, 2013 at 09:38 PM

Linda, if a family can't afford to outbid a slaughter buyer to purchase a horse, then they certainly can't afford to keep, care for, and feed a horse adequately which will then go right back to the horse suffering....which does not happen in a slaughter plant regardless of what you think. Death does not mean suffering, learn to separate the two. If you take a horse to auction, you're taking your chances by asking someone else to pay to take on YOUR responsibility. If you don't want young, healthy horses to go to slaughter, STOP breeding poor quality horses that are worth more by the pound.

Dan Murphy    
Everett, WAshington  |  March, 29, 2013 at 03:11 PM

Well, that's not the first time I've been called pathetic, but let me explain. Yes, I'm sure many people felt genuine sorrow for a horse getting shot on camera, although as more than one reader has noted, if you were to call a vet to euthanize a horse, it's likely the animal would be sedated, then dispatched in a similar manner -- only nobody would be filming it. But the "sobfest" you ridicule is appropriate, because far from being merely an expression of compassion, anti-industry activists use such events as leverage: to push regulations or bills, and especially to fund-raise. That's their right, but let's not pretend some of the outrage isn't manufactured in support of an agenda. Not only that, but I spent the entire column condemning the guy who shot the horse! And you're calling me pathetic? C'mon. Let's aim the p-word at the person who deserves it.

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