Economic pressures revive horse-meat processing

The population of wild horses in the US is hard to manage. Although the thought might be hard to stomach, could using horses for food be a solution?

By Bruce Kennedy Dec 11, 2012 12:38PM

A herd of Mustangs (Tim Flach/Riser/Getty Images)You'd think the days of wild horses roaming the U.S. are long gone, but there are still an estimated 85,000 here, under the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management.

And they're a huge headache for the bureau, too. Every year, the agency rounds up thousands of the animals in an effort to keep the number of wild horses in check.

"We have a huge problem -- out-of-control populations of wild horses and burros on our public lands," U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told the Washington Post in 2009. "The problem has been growing and simmering over time, and it's time for us to do something about it that protects the horses, the public lands and the taxpayers."

But what can you do with these animals? They are protected by the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act -- which declared wild horses to be "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people."


Adding to the headache is Tom Davis, a 64-year-old livestock hauler who has bought more than 1,700 wild horses from the Bureau of Land Management since 2008, ProPublica reports. That's about 70% of all horses the agency sold.

This is a guy that had this to say in May, according to ProPublica:

"Hell, some of the finest meat you will ever eat is a fat yearling colt. What is wrong with taking all those BLM horses they got all fat and shiny and setting up a kill plant?"

It's not hard to connect the dots here. Davis reportedly signed agreements to not sell any of the horses for slaughter. But ProPublica says animal welfare advocates believe at least some of the horses purchased by Davis ended up in Mexican slaughter houses.

Inspection papers show that Davis sent 765 of those horses to towns in Texas near the Mexican border. As for the rest of them? Davis told ProPublica he found good homes but wouldn't give any paperwork showing where they went.

The BLM encourages the public to adopt the horses it captures. But ProPublica says most of those animals "instead go into a government-funded system of feedlots and pastures that hold more than 47,000 animals -- 10,000 more than are in the wild."


The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign says keeping those wild horses off the range and in government care costs taxpayers more than $100,000 each day. And given the ongoing recession and a sustained drought across large parts of the U.S., there are concerns financial pressures may have led to some questionable BLM sales of wild horses.

For its part, the BLM says it "does not and has not sold or sent horses or burros to slaughter." But last week Interior Secretary Salazar announced he will restrict the number of horses people can buy -- and streamline government efforts to prosecute people buying horses for slaughter.


Given America's long love affair with horses, there's been a lot of backlash against the concept of slaughtering the animals for their meat. But late last year, Congress lifted a 5-year-old ban on federal funding for horse-meat inspections in the U.S. 


The reason the ban was lifted apparently boils down to basic economics. A Government Accounting Office report noted the slaughter horse market shifted to Canada and Mexico following the ban. As a result, it said, U.S. horse exports for slaughter from 2006 to 2010 increased by 148% to Canada -- and by 660% to Mexico. The report also attributed rising reports of horse abandonment and neglect in the U.S. "to cessation of domestic slaughter and the economic downturn."

There still aren't any U.S. horse meat processors. A New Mexico meat processing plant recently came under bipartisan criticism from state officials when the facility applied to slaughter horses. But there are groups hoping for a return of horse slaughterhouses in the near future.

"I have personally probably five to 10 investors that I could call right now if I had a plant ready to go," Dave Duquette, president of the pro-slaughter group United Horsemen, said in an interview last year with Associated Press."If one plant came open in two weeks, I'd have enough money to fund it. I've got people who will put up $100,000."

While many Americans may be appalled by the idea of eating a horse, equine flesh has been on the menu in Asia and Europe for centuries.

A survey conducted by market research company Ipsos Mori, says the biggest European importers and consumers of horsemeat are in Belgium, France and Italy -- and that the EU imported more than 61 million pounds of horsemeat from non-European countries last year, ”including Canada and Mexico, where most of the horses come from the United States."

But ironically, European officials are now looking twice at any horse meat coming from the U.S. because of the amount of drugs used in race horses. About 80% of the horse meat processed in Mexico comes from the U.S. And the New York Times says up to 15% of U.S. horses sent for slaughter "may have performed on racetracks in the United States."

As for Davis, he admitted sending horses out of Colorado in violation of brand inspection law, ProPublica reports, and faces prosecution by the local district attorney.

Editor's Note: Bruce Kennedy worked for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association from April 2011 to April 2012. Other than his employment in NCBA's communications department, he is not involved in any way in the cattle industry, nor during his time with NCBA did he work on any issues related to the cattle industry's approach to wild horses. He has no relations with the BLM and figures used in this article, regarding the number of wild horses, both free and currently held in U.S. holding facilities, came from the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign web site.

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Dec 11, 2012 5:27PM

I live in Nevada. Greedy cattle ranchers run their herds on BLM land and they pay the absolute lowest rate per head to graze cattle. They over graze public land. The ranchers hate the wild horses. They want them killed so their cattle can graze BLM. One rancher has grazed on BLM land and owes ten of thousands of $ to the government. The BLM won't collect it because the rancher threatened to shoot  the collectors. Ranchers won't let the horses near water sources. The BLM is their accomplice. They kill horses by running them to death with helicopters. The BLM is cruel. Those horses and federal land belong to The American people to see and enjoy. Bottom line this land was set aside for wild animals, nor ranchers. But the ranchers want to take the land and run bigger herds. In this society if your weak or poor you lose.

Dec 11, 2012 5:01PM

'The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the ways its animals are treated
~ Mahatma Gandhi'

Dec 11, 2012 5:26PM
If the horses are slaughtered, we can send their rearends to Washington.  Would anyone know the difference from anyone else there?
Dec 11, 2012 4:46PM
i don't know about you but i ain't eating no horse meat.
They wiil all be gone before long for they have been taking them for years now and sending them to slaughter to Mexico and to Canada. People on different sights have been fighting this Ken Salzazar of the BLM is rounding them up by helicoper now much faster. They have pictures were young foals have run so hard to keep up with there Mothers until there hoofs came off. They would stand for days then they would drop or they would come back and shoot it and they would have to shoot her too, for she too would be going crazy trying to get to her foal. They do not care.  All of this could be stopped by Congress or our President. Just as with the Wolves they too are being killed off shoot on sight. Nothing is scared any more our Nation is as bad as China any more when it comes to killing our animals. How can they say they own that land? Its no mans land you, me every one pays for it but they are taking our horses and Burroes and leaseing it to cattle ranches while our hores's contine to depelete away much faster than you can think, by the thousands a year so count it from 1995 on that we have been fighting them. on Facebook or Tiweeter all on causes. for soon they will be gone.  
Dec 11, 2012 5:40PM

Goverment has enough people rounding them up. So just castrate and release all the Stallions. England captures its cats neuters them and sets them free at the place they found them. This would work with the horses.

Of course interested parties would rather grind them into dog food or sell beautiful animals to be shipped by boat in terrible conditions to south america for food.

The problem of the over population is so easy to solve without kill trucks but Progressive Government always picks the cruel way with animals and its people.

Dec 11, 2012 5:05PM
For thirty years horses that were not in a class as useable were an industry unto themselves. They were shipped to Canada for consumption, they were sent to slaughter plants for use in dozen's of different ways and created a thriving economy. Then the anti-everybody's, anti-everything shut that industry down in the name of animal humanity!!!!!. Since the deletion of this industry wild horse herds have multiplied to the extent of starvation, race horses' that were crippled or are still crippled are put down and no use from that animal, the urban horse people can't afford to feed or take care of their horse's anymore so now just take them out into the desert where we live and turn them out to starve to death or die of some other cause. Again just a total waste of a perfectly good commodity that would create a benefit to our economy. What in the hell happened to old fashioned common sense and logic, the people who put a stop to this industry are the same people who are now trying to shut down the oil, gas & coal industries with just as little thought, come on fly over America, start speaking up and put a stop to these lunatics, who are destroying this great country who have a basic I.Q. of less than 4.
Dec 11, 2012 8:50PM
I recently watched a credible documentary which demonstrates that the number of wild horses on BLM land is extremely overstated. Also it is well known that the pressure to remove horses directly coorelates to who wants the use of the land, specifically oil operations and mining operations. This is taxpayer owned land that is entrusted to the American people. We should have a say in how it is managed. From what I have read it is not necessary at this time to have massive removal as the herds are not that large, and also have been culled by Mother Nature in all the drought of recent years. It is interesting that one of the most powerful symbols of freedom in America is under attack by huge corporate interests who are annoyed by beautiful wild things.
Dec 11, 2012 7:20PM
What a horribly slanted, one-sided article.  Too bad MSN feels it merits a spotlight in the money section.  Salazar needs to be fired immediately and replaced with someone who is knowlegable and sensitive to the ecosystem and the preferences of the American people. 
Dec 11, 2012 7:51PM

BEWILDERED.....We can feed your dogs, YOU.  Taste like shidt though.


Having been in the Horse business 35 years(not now)...We buried all our old and dead..On the Farm.



"From my cold dead reins."

Dec 11, 2012 9:02PM

stop using my tax dollars to enable the ranchers to make money.  I cannot use federally or state owned property to fund my employment, why are they allowed? oh, yeah, forgot about the kickbacks that Salazar receives.

slaughtering the wild horses is not the solution, except for his buddies that make money off of the horrible deaths that these animals will experience.   if salazr cannot maintain federally owned property,  and protect the wild horses, he needs to lose his job .



Dec 12, 2012 12:33PM
Why should WE the American public pay for USDA inspections for horsemeat going overseas??? That's one question.

We don't eat our companion animals. If we bring slaughter back what's next--the family dog or cat?

Let's talk about the drugs that are routinely given horses. Drugs like Phenylbutazone. Bute is also known as horse aspirin. This drug has NO safe drug withdrawal time. You can't put a horse in a feedlot for six months and then slaughter. Bute leaves the blood system but ends in the meat you and I eat. This drug can cause Aplastic Anemia and other lovely cancers.

Bute was approved in the 1940's for people who had severe arthritis. Several years later they saw the effects and the FDA forbade its use in ANY food source animal because of how dangerous it is. This is not the horse advocates saying this. THIS IS A GOVERNMENT AGENCY.

Can we discuss for a moment the captive bolt. The captive bolt was designed for cattle not horses. They are not the same animal. Horses have an extremely hard skull. The captive bolt deliverer a lot of times misses. It is a very predatory business. Before the slaughter houses closed in the States the captive bolt method was used. Today it is used in Mexico and Canada.

Another issue is Mexico. There is appalling video online of slaughter workers stabbing the horse in the neck until they sever the spinal cord. At which point you hear other workers cheering.

The horse is quite alive and totally conscious. He is strung up by a hind leg while its neck is severed and bled out.

The way to stop this insanity is to remove ALL the power Big Beef has.Washington bows to them. Cattle ranchers don't like horses because of competition. They don't believe in sharing resources. Remove all the fencing on public lands, turn the water back on on public lands. Return the horses to their rightful lands. Quit zeroing out HMA's for cattle ranchers.
Dec 11, 2012 5:14PM
Nothing sacred, man has become so inhumane, greedy.  I really believe when you start advocating eating horsemeat, burros, etc. your mentally challenged.
Dec 12, 2012 2:04PM
Wow! Bad information in here. 85,000 wild horses? The BLM says 35,000 and that number is grossly overstated. Fact-check, much?

Error #2: The GAO report didn't recommend lifting the ban on horse meat inspections for economic reasons. The report itself contains no data supporting such a conclusion. What it does is overreport justification for slaughter coming from ranchers, who want slaughter to be an unregulated industry in the US for any breed and who want US protected wild horses off public lands so their cattle can overgraze them at taxpayer expense. Ten times as many cattle on public lands as horses, and they're fencing off water for the cattle, creating a "drought situation" for horses, thereby justifying their removal. 

This would not be a headache for the BLM and the taxpayers if the BLM left the horses on the public lands designated to them under the 1971 Wild, Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Of course that means that many BLM contractors would not be making millions fleecing the taxpayers. But who's economic interests are the most important, here?

PS: The GAO made a second recommendation, of which you, Mr. Bruce Kennedy, journalist, should be aware: ban the export of horses to slaughter. How about an article on that? Perhaps you could even do some research that does not come from the pro-slaughter lobby???

PS: many better references for this article beyond 2009 quotes from Ken Salazar. Ever heard of 2012? Get current or stop reporting on this subject, please! 

Also: Dave Duquette is will say anything to get a slaughter plant approved. He wants a taxpayer funded, USDA program to slaughter the horses he's overbreeding. Please, do us all a favor, and learn who your sources are before passing them off as credible to the public! 

Dec 11, 2012 8:56PM
The BLM is lying!  The wild horses are very few now because of all the illegal slaughter.  they just had a documentary on the other night about it and told how many are left.  Government ruins everything they touch through greed and stupidity!  And then we get a chance to vote the bad out and stupidity comes around again and votes these people in again!  You can't fix stupid! 
Dec 12, 2012 2:18PM
Here's how Bruce Kennedy described his  previous employment as Associate Director, Organizational Communications of the National Cattleman's Beef Association.

From his LinkedIn profile:

"Produced and coordinated public relations and related media production for this non-profit organization representing America’s cattle and beef industry. Developed and executed public relations strategic plans, including media outreach and press releases, for the food and agriculture industry. Wrote press releases and official correspondence for NCBA’s Communications department, researched proof of performance data for sponsors. Field and studio produced NCBA’s Cattlemen to Cattlemen – a weekly television program which airs nationally on RFD-TV – as well as other media-related content for external and internal use. Worked with program sponsors on related television and internet production.

Wonder what your editors at MSN Money will have to say about this large conflict of interest, Mr. Kennedy.
Dec 11, 2012 5:01PM
How can someone even make a debate about this???
Dec 13, 2012 3:05PM
Wild Horses are not hard to manage.  The BLM would like you to think that for job security purposes but the fact is the job they are doing is a result of a manufactured problem.  When the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act was signed in 1971 it was to help protect the approximately 25,500 horses that existed at the time.  Clearly a threatened animal population.  They were deeded the land they lived on at that time which included some 54 million acres of public land. That amount of land has systematically been reduced to about 31 million acres allotting the other to oil and gas, welfare ranchers, and  mining interest.

Now the BLM would have you believe there are about 38,000 horses remaining in the wild but independents with far better research data are guesstimating closer to 17,500 to 20,000 with another 50,000 in holding costing you and I a pretty penny every year.  Now take out your calculator and do some math.  Divide 31,000,000 by the BLM's number of 38,000...what do you get as to the amount of land each horse can graze?  My calculator says that's just about 815 acres per horse assuming there are 38,000. That number grows dramatically if you use a much more realistic number.

The problem is the BLM has fooled the American public into believing their propaganda of we have to save the horses from starving, they are tearing up the range and water supplies.  BULL.
A recent study has shown conclusive evidence that 80% of the damage done to our public lands is the result of over grazing livestock and other wildlife.   Millions upon Millions of cattle and sheep,  one million elk, many times that in other deer.  Do you really think that 20,000 horses is the problem?

Now as to the horses in holding.  Return all of the original acreage deeded the horses, 53.8 million acres according to the BlM,   And return them to the range.  Now depending on who's number you use let's do some more math.  The BLM number in the wild is 38,000 + 50,000 in holding or 88,000 horses.  Now divide 53.8 million acres by 88,000...My calculator says 611 acres per horse.  Who among us cannot graze one horse on 611 acres?  Here in Florida we do it on 5.  Yes the weather and forage is not the same but think about it.

Take a look at the pictures the BLM posts of horses being driven in this week and see that considering they live in a arid climate they don't look pretty darn good.  Remember these are not show ponies.  They are wild animals.

I'm tired of our government official's bald face lies.  I'm tired of the abuse, negligence and even the murder of our wild horses.  On Monday, December 10th, a 3 year old stud was run for miles chased by a helicopter.  Once he was in holding it was noticed he had a club most cases no big deal after all he was 3 years old and was doing fine in the wild.  But the vet determined he wasn't worth anything and killed him.

ARE YOU MAD NOW?  I SURE HOPE SO!  Their excuse was club foot is genetic and he might have sired another animal with the condition.  After doing some research I found that although the leading cause of club foot is hereditary it is extremely uncommon.

The poor fellow is one of six killed in the current roundup.  There were 5 killed in the last roundup and 19 died in a Colorado holding facilty Dec 3 and 4th. 

Enough is enough.  I'm tired of reporters trying to earn a living using sensationalized garbage.  No independent fact checking just spew it out there.  I'm tired of members of the public spout out the gospel according to Ken Salazar.  Whatever the BLM tells you is hogwash.  

It's a shame the American people pay the salaries of people to do a job and then have to turn around and sue them to stop doing it.
Dec 11, 2012 6:58PM
The Thoroughbred racing industries needs the horsemeat market to sell off the lame animals that don't make time on the track. The Latino/Hispanic vaquero needs the horsemeat market to sell off the lame, starved animals that can no longer be beaten into submission for macho thrills. In Southern California, the Latino/Hispanic vaquero riders with wire and brutal deep spade bits are abandoning lamed and discarded animals they would otherwise have run through a local auction to get dog meat money on. These industries need the income that would otherwise be an expence of humane euthanasia and animal disposal which would cut into their profits and their fun and game monies, respectively. This is a nation that arose on horse back and we should not relegate our past to cheap profits on lamed animals.
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