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 5:40PM

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 5:39PM
Wild horses and donkeys are a plague on the natural environment of the west.  They are are in a class with feral hogs in the south.  The sad thing is that the restrictions on slaughter in the U.S. only resulted in the horses being shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter.  If you think slaughter methods were cruel treatment in the US then you should be doubly appalled at the conditions in Mexico.  I say we manage the resource to the benefit of the environment, the economy and the animals by returning to humane slaughter and sanitary processing of horse and donkey meat for export to those countries that will consume the protein.
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 5:26PM
If the horses are slaughtered, we can send their rearends to Washington.  Would anyone know the difference from anyone else there?
Dec 11, 2012 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 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 5:01PM
How can someone even make a debate about this???
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 5:00PM
In Trona Ca. every year they  have a burro BBQ....
Dec 11, 2012 4:50PM

It's not like we are short of food. Seems no animal is safe from slaughter. If the human race were not so damn greedy and took better care of our earth instead of abusing it till it cannot give anymore both man and animals would be able to live.


One day I hope the meat will kill those who eat it. Some things are not meant to be eatened.


Why not slaughter the freaking murderers and rapists and send them to canada & mexico, china & europe to eat and leave the animals alone!! Plenty of dead men in Mexico. Why not eat them!!

Dec 11, 2012 4:46PM
i don't know about you but i ain't eating no horse meat.
Dec 11, 2012 1:59PM
They need to gather all the wild horses, cut their heads off and feed them to the prisoners.
Dec 11, 2012 1:40PM

2 cups dry red wine

5 sage leaves

5 cloves

1 bay leaf

3 cloves garlic

Pinch grated nutmeg

1 celery stalk chopped

1 lb loin of donkey

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 lb peeled plum tomatoes

salt and pepper


Mix half the wine with all ingredients except oil and marinate for several hours. After that, drain meat and brown in hot oil.  Add remaining wine, cook for 10 minutes, add tomatoes, cook 2 hours. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove meat, strain sauce and pour over. Slice and enjoy.


Note. horse meat can be substituted if no burro is available.



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