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 (www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/22/tim-sappington-new-mexico-horse-killing_n_2931994.html) 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.