Horse-slaughter debate heats up

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In the wake of the European scandals over unlabeled horse meat turning up in prepared foods, the issue of horse slaughter in the United States has returned to the headlines this week. Horse slaughter has essentially been banned in the United States since 2007, when Congress passed an appropriations bill that specifically prevented the USDA from using funds to inspect horse-slaughter plants. Horses processed for meat in this country must by law have USDA inspection. Congress dropped the ban in 2011, but USDA has yet to approve any horse plants for inspection through its Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

This week, several news stories have brought the controversial issue back to the forefront, with the added twist regarding concerns over horsemeat surreptitiously entering the U.S. food supply. This week’s story angles include:

  • A plant in New Mexico reportedly is close to gaining USDA approval for horse slaughter.
  • Protest groups assembled in Oklahoma City where the federal Bureau of Land Management's Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Committee is meeting and where the Oklahoma legislature is considering a bill to end the state’s 50-year ban on horse slaughter.
  • The Obama administration reportedly is urging Congress to reinstate the federal ban on FSIS inspection for horse plants.

In addition to to the usual animal-rights groups, opponents of horse slaughter include many horse owners who view horses as companion animals rather than food animals. Many consumers also have opposed the practices as there is no historical tradition of eating horse meat in this country. When horses were commercially slaughtered in the United States, virtually all the meat was exported.

Supporters of horse slaughter include some horse associations and other livestock groups. The ban, they say, has led to neglect and mistreatment of old, unwanted horses, and thousands are shipped long distances for slaughter in Mexico. Some cattlemen and other horse owners see humane slaughter as the best alternative for old horses.

According to a New York Times article this week, Valley Meat Company in Roswell, New Mexico could gain FSIS inspections for horse slaughter within the next two months. The company filed a lawsuit against USDA last fall, and according to one of the company’s lawyers quoted in the Times article, the Justice Department asked for a 60-day extension for its response to the suit and indicated the USDA will approve inspections during that time.

In Oklahoma meanwhile,  news reports say groups such as the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign gathered this week to protest horse slaughter and the government’s policy for rounding up wild horses, many of which are held on Oklahoma. Meanwhile, two bills reportedly are moving through the Oklahoma House and Senate that would end the state’s ban on horse slaughter.

If Oklahoma ends its ban, plants in the state still would need FSIS inspectors, and according to a USDA source quoted in the Times article, the Obama administration is pressuring Congress to reinstate the federal ban.

The recent outcry over horsemeat substituted for beef in number of prepared products in Europe adds a new element to the debate as people voice concerns over similar mix-ups here. USDA inspection and the export of virtually all U.S. horsemeat would minimize that risk, but not eliminate it.

In the Times article, R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard expresses his group’s support for U.S. horse slaughter, saying cattlemen need access to humane slaughter for horses that become too old or weak to work on ranches. In response, Humane Society of the United States CEO Wayne Pacelle, who is opposed horse slaughter, says support from the cattle industry would be self-destructive due to the risk of horsemeat entering the U.S. food supply, and the ensuing damage to beef demand.

I must admit, it’s the first time I recall Pacelle implying such concern for U.S. beef producers or beef demand.

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Craig A. Moore    
Billings, MT  |  March, 05, 2013 at 10:11 AM

We don't have enough money to pay the bills but we spend $75 million per year taking care of horses that are over-populating the public land out west. Those excesses in population should either go to market or be given to all those groups that want to see them protected and THEY can pay the upkeep every year. And people in Europe don't have a problem in dining on horse when they want horse. They just don't want their foodstuff mixed together. When they buy beef, they want it to be all beef. When they buy horse, they want it to be horse. Don't try to make it anything other than what it is and don't "americanize" everything.

kansas  |  March, 30, 2013 at 08:22 AM

This is no longer about horses that are ill or elderly. This is about POACHING. This is what is going on in states that have chosen to horse slaughter factories. Good, responsible horse owners dont turn their horses over to slaughter factories. But poachers do come and steal horses from peoples farms. This is what happened to me when my horse was shot and killed on my property while I went into town. Once you open the door, there is nothing people will not do to obtain their economic interest. My baby girl was not an unnamed ill horse. She was a registered AQHA quarterhorse being used for children who were abused or had health conditions. And her name was Ami, she was born on my farm and I own her mother as well. I always hear about people's rights being taken way (guns, voting, etc). Where were my rights when poachers entered on to my property and murdered my best friend. Rest in peace my little one and know no one in our community will rest to until your murderer is brought to justice.

Tomball, TX  |  March, 05, 2013 at 10:26 AM

Prior to the high profile media reports of European "adulteration" of beef (also possibly pork) with horse meat, the resumption of U.S. slaughter of horses was apparently an almost certainty. However, with SO MUCH media attention being brought RIGHT NOW, I wouldn't bet a dime that any horse slaughter plant begins operating in the U.S. in the foreseeable future. An exceptional example of coincidental/fateful BAD TIMING.

Vicki Tobin    
Illinois  |  March, 05, 2013 at 01:24 PM

Mr. Moore, better yet, how about getting the privately owned cattle off the ranges and that will save the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The cost for the wild horses pales in comparison and if all the taxpayers have to pay so the welfare ranchers can graze their private owned livestock on public lands, you can pay for the horses. And if you did a bit of research, you would discover the EU prohibits all wild equidae meat except zebra meat but then, when has anyone involved in horse slaughter followed laws or regulations. There wouldn’t be any upkeep if the BLM left them on the ranges where they belong. That wouldn’t cost the taxpayers a dime. Exactly what horses are these plants going to slaughter? They aren’t going to be able to determine if they are drug free since we have no traceability with horses or do they plan on falsifying the paperwork like they do now? And if NM should open, Santos will no doubt get himself shut down again. If he couldn’t get livestock slaughter right, one can only imagine what he’ll do with horses. With the scandal continuing to grow and all the beef that we import, it is just a matter of time before this breaks in the US and that means we are eating toxic horse meat from US horses that Canada and Mexico imported. Many of the manufacturers having to remove products source globally to obtain volume discounts so that means the same meat is in the products sold in the US. The US meat industry can’t keep it out of the media forever.

Marilyn Wilson    
WA  |  March, 05, 2013 at 05:33 PM

Exactly right! If horse slaughter fixed all the abandoned and starving then why didn't it solve the problem when the Belgians were slaughtering horses on US soil. It's a supply and demand business and I will NOT have my tax money supporting the FOAL MILLERS! They should be tax for over-breeding horses not compensated with our tax money. Who will the US sell this tainted meat to??? God what's next, dogs and cats, then human babies! No Horse Slaughter in the US ever again and the borders need to be closed. STOP BREEDING HORSES!

C porter    
Illinois  |  March, 06, 2013 at 12:43 PM

This is really amazing that people are climbing on board to AGREE with horse slaughter in the Cattle industry. Because a horse breeder here's what I see, shady deals within the states out the back door of meat hauling trailer-then that guy he sells to someone who sells beef to the stores and then the grocery or butcher doesnt have to buy as many cattle and until he gets caught sells it as beef, then when the scandal breaks not a large cattle grower in the country will be able to sell beef and the little butcher down the road will make money of your losses, and resteraunts and groceries will only be able to sell some beef until the costly tests are done. So why are you on board? As for the statement of weak and old horses 12 isnt old and the weakness is because as cattle people you cant feed just anything to a horse and hope it works hard for you all the time. Initially that a great story however, the underlying situation is that American's that get online and hide behind a computer are also reading from horse people not activists as they group everyone into a branded group of persons, horse people know what to do to get the best out of their horses, they give them medications and dewormers, vaccines, and enhancers that can make people really sick. I also dont understand why you as cattle growers would want your meat mixed with a horses and get a bad rap and on top of that you will see that if anyone gets Hepatitis, EIA, Bute, Acepromazine, or anything else that comes in a horse they are sue the beef growers. Besides the reason he gives a crap to the guy in the article is that I told him that cattle is one thing we require, horses are not, so he was relaying what a horse owner was trying to help you out.

Kansas  |  March, 06, 2013 at 04:51 PM

Sorry Vickii but the land you are talking about (BLM ) is the rest of ours to. Horses were brought here by the Spani so they really don't belong. If the Spainards don't want them all back then we shall harvest them. If you really want to complain about some thing why not the slaughter of unborn humans? God says this is a sin and a abomination.

Vicki Tobn    
Illinois  |  March, 06, 2013 at 05:08 PM

Sorry, Kansas but you didn't comprehend what I posted. Yes, the taxpayers pay for the BLM land and what I said was if everyone has to pay for welfare ranchers to run their private businesses to the tune of hundreds of millions per year, then everyone can also pay for the native horses. There is plenty of evidence proving the horses are indeed native to the lands. What aren't native, are privately owned livestock. We warned for years that horse slaughter was going to give the meat industry a black eye and here it is but the US meat industry still hasn't learned to distance themselves from it. Perhaps when they start pulling beef off the shelves here and more and more people quit eating beef, they'll get a clue. It has already started happening and a statement against horse slaughter to keep what's happening overseas from happening here would go a long way right now to stem the tsunami that is sure to come.

Tom Heck    
El Paso Tx  |  March, 06, 2013 at 08:28 PM

Wow how many horses are you ready to care for? Life is real not what you idiots dream of

New Mexico  |  March, 07, 2013 at 04:54 AM

I would bet that none of the complaining liberals above have ever had a good horse meat steak or good horse meat sausage. But then again you probably do not eat meat of any kind. The only beef you have ever had is complaining about good people trying to make a business work.

ogden, utah  |  March, 07, 2013 at 03:58 PM

I have eaten horse many times on my travels. I enjoyed it. If we sold horse meat in the u.s. I would for sure buy some. Just like I always say, "Try it Mikey, you might like it". I think 50 years from now people will need all the land to grow animals for food to feed the world. Any kind of protein will be good food.

Wyoming  |  March, 07, 2013 at 09:58 PM

Vicki, Please understand that federal ground that is leased to private beef producers is a lease. We have to pay in order to use that multiple use land. We do, but when you run pencil to the economics, private land leases, even though they are cheaper sound great. We continue to loose more money on public land leases, because we see a benefit to wildlife and the environment when the land is managed correctly. Let me state again when the land is correctly managed. thanks

Tex Hall    
Amarillo, TX  |  March, 08, 2013 at 10:20 AM

First of all, none of the comments addressed a MAJOR problem that has come up since we stopped horse slaughter in the US. Domestic horses are being dumped or "Set free" because some people who have them can't afford them/don't want them/etc. The vast majority of domestic horses that are let loose on range lands can't survive since they depend on the wormings and vaccinations that they have been getting. They have no natural immunities left. Their deaths are inhumane and downright horrid. Some of them adapt and learn to survive. But then that increases the numbers of ferral horses as well as the mustangs/mustang crosses. That impacts the food supplies for all of the "wild horses" and causes them to adapt again or die. The management program in effect now is done to keep the population and food supply at a sustainable level. Down the line with the new genetics from these released domestic horses, the now sustainable mustang population will become damaged and unsustainable without outside intervention. Don't slaughter horses and you contribute to severe damage to ecosystems as well as the probability of seeing the Mustang on the endangered species list.

Ohio  |  March, 08, 2013 at 10:24 AM

Horse feathers !!! This is so ridiculous. If the Europeans want to eat PURE horse meat, we con provide it for them. Please, open the horse killing facilities in the US. Too many unwanted horses.

ogden, utah  |  March, 08, 2013 at 03:04 PM

thistlefarms, amen to your comment. Utah has so many unwanted horses given to the kill buyer, he cant get the horses to the "harvest facility" fast enough. He has four trucks! Hay is at an all time high. At ten to twelve dollars a bale on average.

SD  |  March, 08, 2013 at 04:11 PM

Do you who want the so called wild horses (it is obvious by their appearance that they have been breeding with tame horses for generations and doubtful there is much if any, true mustang blood in them) have any idea of how much tax money already has and is being spent to care for those horses originating on "public lands" in the west? Even more important, do you know that ranchers using "public lands" probably had family members who developed that land and made use of the best use for it, raising cattle, for well over a hundred years, more likely since at least the 1870's in much of it? The thing you are least likely to know (or to admit) is that those ranchers PAY for the use of the land, PAY for fencing, and for water development and distribution. Land which is not properly used by grazing animals does not regenerate the grasslands properly and wildlife also needs proper management, which, unfortunately the government does not always do well. Cattle and wildlife coexist very well when properly managed. Yes, there was abuse of land in the past, and maybe some still do, but not those who need the land to make a living. The science of range management is not very old, and still is developing, assisted largely by the cattle ranchers. And NO, I do not have any "public land" for my family's ranch. We have had to buy it a piece at a time, with no small personal sacrifice, over the past five generations on this ranch.

Vicki Tobin    
March, 12, 2013 at 02:25 PM

What was the reason they were dumping and abandoning horses when all three plants were in operation? There is nothing stopping anyone from sending their horse to slaughter so the question is why are they "dumping" them instead of sending them to slaughter? Slaughter never ended and with the amount slaughtered last year, slaughter is thriving. Your argument is moot. So we slaughtered all the abandoned and neglected horses last year so why will there be another 100,000 this year? We've been slaughtering them for decades and you are still claim there are abandoned on dumped horses. Slaughter hasn't fixed it in decades so why continue doing something that doesn't work? Don't you think it's time to address the cause instead of slaughtering the victims?

M.J. Marsalek    
Bel Air, Maryland  |  March, 20, 2013 at 09:11 AM

Nobody ever got or died of mad cow disease from eating horse meat. In these difficult economic times, consider that horses sell for as little as $0.10 per pound while cattle sell for more than $1.00 per pound. For years, the Europeans have eaten horse meat because they enjoy it. In the near future, Americans may have to start eating horse meat because we won't be able to afford any other kind of meat.

elizabeth dana    
NY  |  March, 30, 2013 at 02:03 AM

Let's drag every sick and infected horse through the same trailers , vets, sale barns etc that I use and HOPE that out of state Brucelleous or Bovine TB does not start up again....and then reassure EVERY sale that there is no chance of horsemeat getting mixed in...just like Europe...hoof and mouth


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