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