Commentary: Horse sense

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The news story began with a simple declarative sentence:

“A U.S. District Court judge in St. Louis will decide if a meat processor in Gallatin, Mo., can begin slaughtering horses.”

How the story ends is as yet unknown, but for once, some sanity has been injected into the rancorous and polarizing fight over whether horses should be slaughtered here in the United States, under USDA’s watchful eyes, or shipped off elsewhere to meet the same fate, although likely under less desirable circumstances.

Because that’s what the argument is really about: Not whether horses should be slaughtered or whether . . . well, the opponents don’t really articulate what the alternative might be, but they’d like us to imagine a quiet, peaceful death in which the horse is surrounded by both human and equine loved ones, followed by a ceremonious burial with appropriate readings from Scripture.

Truth is, when horses grow old, when owners cannot afford their keep, or when they’ve simply been abandoned, the two choices are whether they will be slaughtered here or in Mexico or Canada. Not whether there any horse plants allowed to operate or not, but simply where in North America we prefer the animals be dispatched.

Right now, as numerous sources have noted, an estimated 175,000 horses are shipped each year to Mexico and Canada for slaughter, with most of the meat exported to Europe and Japan. Even as Valley Meat in New Mexico struggles to re-open as a horse plant, a business owner in Missouri awaits the federal court’s decision on whether a Missouri meat plant can also be permitted to handle horses.

What’s most interesting is that the owner, David Rains, describes himself as a horse owner, and getting into the business of horse slaughter was not necessarily part of some master plan.

“We’re horse people," Rains told KQTV, an ABC affiliate in St. Joseph, Mo. “We have 10 horses of our own we use for riding and catching cows and gathering cows.”

But after his small plant, Rains Natural Meats, was forced to closed last year because of financial struggles, horsemeat emerged a potential alternative. In addition eyeing the export market, Rains told KQTV that there is a “severe problem” with horse overpopulation.

“There are horses that are mean,” he told the station. “There are horses that are past their prime that people can no longer afford to take care of.”

A switch in tactics

According to the story, Rains retrofitted his meat processing plant, which had previously processed cattle, pigs, elk, deer and bison, to handle only horses. And now he awaits the court’s ruling in response to a legal challenge by the Humane Society of the United States, which resulted in a temporary injunction to prevent the plant from opening.

And just in case anyone might be unaware of the balance of power in this court case, HSUS officials were able to quickly post a $500,000 bond last week ordered by the court to keep the temporary injunction in effect, should Rains’ business suffer losses while waiting for a decision that might ultimately go in his favor.

HSUS attorneys argued the bond should not be required because their case is against the federal government and its permitting process, not against companies that were given permission to begin slaughtering horses. They lost on that motion.

A coalition of animal activist groups, including HSUS, got a temporary restraining order issued last month to prevent Valley Meat and Responsible Transportation of Sigourney in Iowa from opening their approved horse plants. However, last week officials with Responsible Transportation announced that they were dropping plans to slaughter horses and would convert their plant to beef processing. Keaton Walker, company president, said his firm cannot afford to wait while the court deliberates.

Meanwhile, HSUS tried to float another issue to muddy the waters further.

“I don’t want to put anybody out of business,” HSUS spokesperson Amanda Good told KQTV. “That’s not my goal. Horse slaughter is completely different from any other animal that’s sent to slaughter. It’s just not safe for human consumption.”

Not sure where Ms. Good gets off using the first-person singular, but her argument obviously attempted to expand consumer concerns to add a food-safety fear to the standard “horses are too beautiful to die” argument.  Specifically, Good cited the use of phenylbutazone, which is used in veterinary medicine to treat such injuries as sprains, tendonitis and laminitis, an inflammation of a horse’s hooves.

“To send animals to slaughter that have received this drug is a great danger to humans,” Good claimed.

However, not only did extensive testing in the U.K during Europe’s horsemeat scandal earlier this year fail to produce any positive findings, but safeguards will be in place to prevent potential residues in horsemeat from entering the food chain.

“Our customers are going to be reassured that there will never be a horse that walks through that plant that has any trace of drug residue in them,” said Sue Wallis, U.S. chair of The International Equine Business Association, in a statement. “They will be required to do a lot more testing in horse plants than they do in any other kind of meat plant.”

In the Missouri case, HSUS also tried to raise the specter of environmental damage—claiming that a lagoon at the plant “would run red with blood”—but since that (alleged) threat is strictly localized to Rains’ waste disposal plans, it’s unlikely to generate any national traction on that issue.

For now, the fate of the Missouri plant—and by extension the larger issue of horse slaughter nationally—is all resting on the decision of the St. Louis District Court.

The court is scheduled to rule on Sept. 5.

Stay tuned.

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

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Oklahoma  |  September, 01, 2013 at 08:23 AM

Commercial slaughter in any of the proposed plants does not meet the 2013 AVMA Guide for Humane Euthanasia for horse slaughter. Call it a better end all you want but it does not meet the guidelines to qualify as a humane death. Horses are not raised for a food source. No one looks at their 6 month old foal and dreams of it being a juicy steak. They are given drugs to assist their athletic performance that are banned by the FDA for human consumption. The United States gets around that by requiring kill buyers who sign documents on the honor system that say these animals have not been given these drugs. It's such a farce. The humane food chain is not a free disposal system for the horse industry!!!!

Tommy Lee    
illinois  |  September, 01, 2013 at 09:03 AM

Lets look at it from the Cattle raisers Association. 1. They were getting $3.00 per head slaughtered in Texas. 2. They had the American People pay for their inspectors secretly for years until exposed. 3. The plants in Texas paid NO Gross income taxes 4. These plants hire illegals to work there that paid no taxes if they were classified as a non resident. 5. These plants will have NO Competition bringing in more profits. 6. These plants in Texas and Illinois had a history of city and state violations with some were never paid. 7. These plants were protected by AG and Farm Bureau. 8. These plants are also protected by a AG GAG bill that hides and protects any abuse or neglect that is videoed or any pictures taken in the plant making that person a criminal. 9. Common sense horse slaughter will NOT control abuse and neglect it will only enhance it. 10. Horse slaughter is merely a reward for criminals and irresponsible people. As a horse owner we will NOT allow it and will continue to fight tooth and nail to expose this inhumane business.

September, 01, 2013 at 09:54 AM

Funny how every interview with someone who wants to kill horses for profit starts with how they are horse people and love their horses. That right away smells like rotten fish. They are using PR to spin away from saying they just don't care and were convinced to get into slaughtering horses by a goofy woman from Wyoming who loves the attention she is getting. Almost nothing in this article is true. That is not the number of horses that went to slaughter, they are not slaughtering old or sick horses and so on. Talk about injecting some logic into an argument. Mr. Murphy just shot some more botox into an already fat lip in order to mask this cruel and greedy industry.

N GA  |  September, 01, 2013 at 12:09 PM

Maybe Rains should have waited to retrofit his plant. I hope with all my heart he and all the others are never allowed to operate. SAFE Act needs to pap pen!

September, 01, 2013 at 08:02 PM

It's called euthanasia. the humane way. horse slaughter is a direct violation of the humane slaughter act. so while this stupid page spews unscientific rhetoric, we get stronger to boycott beef

US  |  September, 01, 2013 at 08:07 PM

Required reading

Tami Hottes    
Illinois  |  September, 01, 2013 at 08:20 PM

I get tired of the "Old, sick, abandoned" horses bull crap! Do these people eat steak from old sick abandoned cattle? Look at the sign at the Fallon Auction who processes hundreds of horses! No sick, starved, blind horses or studs! NO EXCEPTIONS!

Chicago  |  September, 01, 2013 at 08:56 PM

Most horses that die every year, 90 percent of them, are not slaughtered. Even most of the ones that are slaughtered were never intended for human consumption. Their owners thought they were selling riding horses, or companion horses. A substantial portion were stolen. Most of the time when pro-slaughter talks about "owners rights" they are referring to the contract buyers for the foreign horse slaughterhouses. The slaughterhouses were owned by Belgian meat packers in the US, and those same Belgian meat packers moved over the borders when we shut them down here.

US Journalist    
New York City  |  September, 01, 2013 at 10:47 PM

"Under USDA’s watchful eyes"?? Really? REALLY? Take a gander at these photos taken of transport violations at Beltex and Dallas Crown documenting extreme animal abuse under the watchful eyes of USDA inspectors...and no one was fined or had a license pulled! USDA looks away while putting taxpayer money in its pockets. Please stop lauding the USDA. It just makes you look stupid.

US Journalist    
New York City  |  September, 01, 2013 at 10:50 PM

USDA Photos here:

Marge Mullen    
New England  |  September, 02, 2013 at 06:55 AM

Unwanted Horses The majority of horses that go to slaughter are not unwanted, but purchased by “kill buyers,” which are middlemen who work on behalf of the foreign-owned horse slaughter industry. The horses they buy are not sick, old, diseased or dying, but in good health because they bring the best price per pound for their meat. According to the USDA Guidelines for Handling and Transporting Equines to Slaughter, more than 92 percent of horses slaughtered are “in good to excellent condition.” According to a 2001 Animal Sciences Research Report by The Department of Animal Sciences, Colorado State University, titled Characterizations of Horses at Auctions and in Slaughter Plants, “…more than 70 percent were in good, fat to obese condition…” Opposite of pro-slaughter claims that ending horse slaughter will result in a surplus of unwanted horses with nowhere for them to go, the National Agricultural Statistics Services stated that since the decline in the number of horses slaughtered, those horses have been absorbed into the current population through re-homing, adoption and rescue organizations. Since it’s estimated that approximately one percent of the horse population goes to slaughter, it can be assumed, based upon pro-slaughter arguments, that that one percent is “unwanted.” However, according to the American Horse Council, “We do not have reliable statistics on the number of horses that become unwanted each year. We do know that 90,000 to 100,000 unwanted horses have been sent to slaughter annually, and that the total number of unwanted horses is substantially greater than this.”

September, 02, 2013 at 08:30 AM

its to bad, we have horse thief's in my neck of the woods....Iowa. I dare anyone of them to try to steal one of my horses, they wont leave the property....

Vicky Johnson    
Illinois  |  September, 02, 2013 at 08:58 AM

most propaganda.... Most US horses that come to the end of their life are NOT slaughtered! Est. is over 9 million US horses of which 10% come to the end of their life each year or over 900,000. The majority are humanely euthanized - not by slaughter. It is not the poor that sends their horse to slaughter - it is the big ranch breeders that throw hundreds of horses out and breed with no regard for market as a riding horse and when they can't sell them as a riding horse, they dump them in the slaughter system. Since horses are NOT raised for food, unless they test each and every horse for legal and illegal drugs, US horses are NOT safe to eat. They cannot be tested like any other species because they are NOT raised for food and come from owners that have NO clue what is and isn't allowed in food animals with most medications and topicals for horses never intended for human consumption. My two adulterated horses were stolen by deception and sold to a kill buyer. The police marked the report civil and closed. They were shipped before I could get private legal intervention. How safe is that?

Zig Pope    
September, 02, 2013 at 10:49 AM

Under the watchful USDA... What complete and utter rot. This is an article by an inspector that will make make you sit and pay attention.

Curtiss Lukens    
Missouri  |  September, 02, 2013 at 11:13 AM

Well Dan Murphy you sure got all of that pro slaughter lingo down! Been coached by $laughter $ue Wallis? Amanda Goods' use of first person language is indicative of the 80% of Americans that oppose the brutal and unnecessary practice of horse slaughter. The European testing was of 7,500 samples out of millions and they didn't test for Phenylbutazone in every sample. Testing for Phenylbutazone or Bute can only be done by certain labs with a sample of the kidneys which was unavailable. The kidneys if they were American horses were probably in a land fill in Canada or Mexico. The testing was only done on European horses raised for slaughter that are not given drugs! Our food safety is at risk and over 90% of American horses have been exposed to over 100 different drugs banned for human consumption. How soon before it is slipped into our food. So far, we don't do DNA testing on the meat sold in this country. Walmart sells ground beef that is a product of USA, Canada and Mexico how do we know if we aren't already eating bute tainted horse meat? Besides I don't want my tax dollars (USDA says $400,000 per plant)to go for inspecting meat for foreign consumption while taking away inspectors for meat that is to be consumed in this country.

September, 02, 2013 at 11:27 AM

David Rains, VP of a failed slaughterhouse, believes that 1% of the equine population being bought into slaughter every year constitutes a “severe problem” with horse over-population. How can 1% of anything be a severe problem? Interestingly, Cindy T. of Richmond, MO sheds some real light on their operations way back on 11/15/10 when she offered them 1 star and the following review: “Poor managed, very unprofessional establishment. Did not receive all of our meat back, took 4 beef and asked for livers from all 4 and did not receive any of the livers. Packaging was horrible - dirty packages, bloody, on the outside. Take no responsibility for their actions or inaction. They have a list posted for public to see of names of people they will not do business with anymore. Very unprofessional. Do not recommend this establishment for meat processing.” But, they'll be humanely slaughtering horses with .410 shotgun slug? No worries there. Good God in Heaven!! Then it almost gets comical when David conceded that there are "health issues and groundwater contamination issues" involved in horse slaughter in an article on in July. Then, a couple weeks later, when a lawsuit arguing that horses, treated with a gamut of drugs that could be dangerous to human health would be slaughtered at the facility, was upheld; David called the judge’s order illegal and said he was fighting to have it overturned. What are you smoking, David? I honestly can't believe that the cattle/beef industry supports horse slaughter. It will be direct competition and give the entire meat market a black eye. Can you say "horse meat scandal"? I already don't eat meat due to your vile "common practices" and complete lack of oversight. Wake up!!

September, 02, 2013 at 11:37 AM

Just FYI for Dan Murphy: A journalist researches, writes, and reports information to present in sources, conduct interviews, engage in research, and make reports. I think you're missing out on the "research" portion of the job... Just listening to a failed businessman who speaks from both sides of his mouth and is desperately trying to jump on the horse meat gravy train, then offering his opinion which has little, if any, basis in fact, doesn't constitute "journalism". Just sayin'... You know, since you call yourself a journalist.

Barbara Leonard    
Seymour MO  |  September, 02, 2013 at 01:53 PM

The writer of this article is obviously biased.....and in the wrong direction. We in MO have already thrown the horse slaughter wannabes out TWICE and we will do it again in Gallatin. Your information source is incorrect.....slaughter plants will NOT take old or run down horses. They are also not supposed to take horses treated with any toxic medications.....but thanks to unscrupulous kill buyers, they say a horse is free of drugs when they may have only owned that horse for a few hours. What does that matter to anyone? It matters because even the most common horse medications like de- wormer state right on the label "Not intended for horses meant for human consumption" And then let's not forget the environmental damage a horse slaughter plant does to an is the official report from the city of Kaufman TX when they had a slaughter plant. Remind me to never read another article by you.

Shelley  |  September, 02, 2013 at 05:41 PM

So, you all are supportive of something that's only going to end up generating distrust of beef in the US? OK, I guess to each their own. I would expect you to be a little more self aware of the potential negative ramifications. Ok, the extensive testing in the EU did detect bute in the horse meat DNA that tainted the beef. A small amount, true, but no amount of bute can be tolerated. You need to do a little better at fact checking.

Ted PeepLover Wells    
Missouri  |  September, 03, 2013 at 02:13 AM

The TRUTH is that any equine slaughter facility is an economic and ecological disaster for the surrounding communities (witness It is a thinly disguised attempt to bring financial gains to a few, foreign owned concerns. It does not provide jobs, there is little/no market for horsemeat, it does not address the supposed "unwanted horse problem", and it results in an increase in crime without any benefit to the community. It's a losing proposition all the way around. AND IT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN IN MISSOURI NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES YOU TRY.

Suzanne Moore    
Indiana, USA  |  September, 03, 2013 at 11:26 AM

It makes absolutely no sense at all for the cattle industry to support horse slaughter. What are you people thinking? Haven't you heard of the huge horse meat scandal in the UK, EU, Asia, Russia, the Balkans, that is still spreading? Beef secretly adulterated with horse meat? Is this news to you? If it is, you ole boys better wake up and smell the boycott. Number one, you have infuriated Americans - including me - for your rabid support of horse slaughter. This really is none of your business. The vast majority of us are horse owners, NOT Vegans, and don't even support the animal rights agenda that you seem to be so terrified of. Do you folks actually believe that banning the slaughter of horses - a non-food animal most of which have never been on a farm in their lives - is going to lead to a ban on the slaughter of food animals? If you do, I have a bridge in New York I will sell you for cheap. Even though I'm a beef eater - or was - I'm done with you. I'm absolutely furious for your continued blocking of anti-horse slaughter for NO reason, and I don't plan to eat beef that might be adulterated with horse meat, which seems to me to be a much better explanation of your support of reopening domestic horse slaughter plants than some fantasy about a "slippery slope." Whatever your reasons, they can't be worth the harm you are doing to yourselves and your reputation. Go ahead and destroy what little is left of your credibility. Just don't say you weren't warned. Really sad for all concerned, especially our horses, completely guiltless as they are.

October, 07, 2013 at 09:11 PM

Please sign the petition to Ban Horse Slaughter in Gallatin Missouri. Thanks!

October, 07, 2013 at 09:12 PM

Please ask your U.S. Senators and Representatives to support the Safeguard American Food Exports act, which will ban slaughter in the U.S. and the shipment for slaughter to Canada and Mexico. Safeguard American Food Exports act is S. 541 in the U.S. Senate and H.R. 1094 in the U.S. House of Representatives. This website makes it easy to contact your elected officials:

October, 07, 2013 at 09:19 PM

Please sign the petition to Ban Horse Slaughter in Gallatin Missouri, and share!

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