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 13, 2012 5:33PM
they are not your lands they belong to the horses, why not just leave them be, horsemeat should not be consumed it is a health hazard and they should bre treasured as they are wild, if they cant be sold to loving homes then they should be left wild and free, they were here long before us and im sure they will be long after, don't steal THEIR LAND
Dec 13, 2012 4:34PM
Bruce Kennedy, the author of this article, has undisclosed conflict of interest: he's a former communications director for the National Cattleman's Beef Association.  This greatly taints his reporting. 

Dec 13, 2012 4:26PM
"Are wild horses truly “wild,” as an indigenous species in North America, or are they “feral weeds” – barnyard escapees, far removed genetically from their prehistoric ancestors? The question at hand is, therefore, whether or not modern horses, Equus caballus, should be considered native wildlife.
The question is legitimate, and the answer important. In North America, the wild horse is often labeled as a non‐native, or even an exotic invasive species, by most federal or state agencies dealing with wildlife management, such as the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. The legal mandate for many of these agencies is to protect native wildlife and prevent non‐native species from causing harmful effects on the general ecology of the land. Thus, management is often directed at total eradication, or at least minimal numbers. If the idea that wild horses were, indeed, native wildlife, a great many current management approaches might be compromised. Thus, the rationale for examining this proposition, that the horse is a native or non‐native species, is significant."
They are literally a returned native wildlife species, the only one having a unanimously passed Act of Congress guaranteeing their protection (or attempting to) under the federal law of this country. It may interest you to learn that the La Brea Tar Pits in southern California are a veritable treasure trove of fossils and bones of animals who, over thousands of years, got sucked into the tar which waits quietly under the seemingly innocuous water and perished. The facility displays amazing skeletons and displays of mastodons, sabre toothed tigers, and wild horses, one of many such places evidencing that horses did in fact evolve in North America and are a wildlife species native to our land. The factual basis of the horses' right to be respected and treated as aprotected native of our land is that the word "feral" is a misnomer and only used to intentionally detract from this fact. A compelling book, "The Wild Horse Conspiracy" by Craig Downer, available at Amazon - tells the true story of our West and how negative schemes have played out against mustangs and our public lands since 4 decades. A book you won't be able to put down - lending insight to our Western heritage and history. Anyone in the cattle industry, BLM and special interests ought to read this book and realize how embarassing their tirades and deceptive propaganda would be, as Craig is the expert on this on all fronts. It's not a work of fiction. It is what is going down, unjustified, secretly and corruptly. Act now before it's too late - join the fight to preserve our last mustangs and burros on the range where they belong by law. Quit believing hogwash as it has been spoonfed to us tax paying people for too long. Get the truth out and take your American pride to help defend those on whose back this country was built and deserve more than the greed by feds, the lies by cattle barons and the sleep mode of the general public and main media !
Dec 13, 2012 3:56PM
To those still stuck in false claims of wild horses not being native... read on:
Imposing certain terms to intensify a campaign solely aimed to discredit the latest scientific findings or dismiss mustang advocates as extremists has long (since decades) been the tool of many wild horses' traditional enemies. To perpetuate the existing evidence of their native status as a scientific value to the research community is the goal of those who agree that current views such as to claim America's wild horses are "feral" reflect a pitiful status quo of misinformation. Ross MacPhee, Ph.D.  from the American Museum of National History has been kind enough to allow this reprint of his response to Ms. Simon of WSJ, and it is one of the best explanations I have heard regarding the wild horse’s evolution.
The reintroduced, native wild horses of America enhance the eco-system and should be protected as integral components of the public lands here in America, their evolutionary cradle. The public domain was declared as their protected home with the 1971 Act passed by Congress. In the competition of multiple use the wild horse enemies cleverly dismiss scientific evidence, historic facts and perpetuate a myth that is false to mustangs' authentic status and origin. The good ol'boys' creativity in this quest to even form "feral committees" to get rid of wild horses are testimony to their archaic stance. Mustangs and burros are scape goated victims of the new West. With massive PR gigs the BLM tries to convince of a problem that does not exist (They ought to still justify the loss of by now 20 million acres of federally protected habitat for mustangs, since 1971, when WFRHBA was passed, see attached letter Raul Grijalva Congressman D-AZ, to Bob Abbey BLM 2009).
It is every American's duty to explore truth and factual evidence. As rational minds rest their case on the latest independent scientific findings to contribute to the education library about the important historic presence of wild horses in Northern America, some paying mouths and all those reflecting otherwise ought to get a clue on the jaundiced views which are a product of pro hunting, special interests and greed driven personal agendas.   
Please find the updated version of the Kirkpatrick/Fazio piece at the following link:
The reality of the wild horses is in fact that they enhance the native eco-system, if allowed. They keep wildfires in check through the consumption of nutrient poor, flammable grasses, herbs and shrubs that equids are digestively equipped to handle. Craig Downer has plenty of scientific studies and references available, he is the author of "Wild Horses: Living Symbols of Freedom". With the intent to rely on real science, not propagated myths, please allow me to share the below information with you. There is a consortium of scientists, i.e. wildlife biologists, ecologists & paleontologists that rebut this insane, perverse propaganda of wild horses being "invasive species or feral". I would like to point out that these animals are protected under an act of Congress and that in that act of Congress they are NOT addressed as "invasive species".   See information by Karen Sussman and Craig Downer, a nationally renowned wildlife ecologist with considerable expertise on this subject.
Kirkpatrick, J.F., and P.M. Fazio. Revised January 2010. Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife. The Science and Conservation Center, ZooMontana, Billings. 8 pages  
Dec 13, 2012 3:48PM



Dec 13, 2012 3:43PM

Unfortunately biased views and self-serving agendas such as Bruce Kennedy's have impacted the scape goating of wild horses for too long. Their existence is highly threatened by monopolized cattle gurus and special interests. Lies, deceptive tactics and brainwash propaganda such as inflated numbers and unwarranted "emergency" labels on round ups are monopolizing the "mismanagement" by the very agency assigned to protect. The status of wild horses is a re-introduced native wildlife species. Those not having done their homework and trying to fool the American public, even audaciously claim them being "feral".  The deception does not end there. The tax paying public is sponsoring cruelty in the worst: choppers knocking over equines, foals ran to suffer hoof slough, mares aborting and collapsing, stallions breaking necks and legs. The reality is far from what Bruce Kennedy wants you to believe. The hideous inhumane standards are not tales of animal whackos, as advocates are dismissed too often. They are incidents which the BLM hides, and only under public pressure tries to embellish the real facts... Tax payers have been fooled and deceived. Animals suffer immensely. The plight is real, and alternatives are on the table. Craig Downers "Reserve Design Proposal" is a solution. It is the vision to preserve in the wild habitat, with natural predators intact (usually killed by special interests) and leading to self-stabilizing herds as the 1971 Act intended for their protection.

The negative schemes have led a huge propaganda to deceive Americans. It's time you all wake up. You included, Bruce Kennedy.

Dec 13, 2012 3:39PM
Well, well.  Look who wrote this "opinion-piece-disguised-as-real-news" -- Mr Bruce Kennedy, former communications director for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Hey MSN -- you really dropped the ball on this one -- this needs to be in the Editorial section, not where your readers may be under the impression this biased bit of propaganda direct from the Cattle industry is "real news"

Good grief.

Dec 13, 2012 3:32PM

A story, long overdue to be told, reflects the survival plight of America's last wild horses and burros. The proof of their evolution in North America is evident thanks to the works and painstaking research such as Craig Downer’s, a nationally renowned wildlife ecologist who reveals their archeological and fossil evidence and how they contribute to both the ecosystem and humanity.
The very officials charged with their protection have over the course of decades inflicted grave injustices towards these magnificent icons on whose back this nation was built. Special interests have taken over the agenda and whole herds of wild horses have already been extinct, whilst cattle leases are taking over the very habitat assigned to our mustangs by the 1971 Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Protection Act.
Mining, drilling and monopolized water control have played a significant role in pushing our last mustangs and burros into extinction. Fairy tales of range deterioration, forage depletion and starvation have greatly added to the deception tactics applied by those assigned to protect these equines. The cruelty inflicted during these stampedes have shocked the .Video footage of foals run to death, mares collapsing under helicopter and stallions breaking their necks... is not a benign affair and certainly the agency does not want you to see.
Most Americans do not know what is taken from them. The mustangs are evicted from their rightful range and our public lands are auctioned off to cattle use. Their damage has far more caused harm on the range, yet the few horses which are enhancing our ecosystem by keeping wildfires in check thru consumption of nutrient-poor, flammable grasses, herbs and shrubs for example - are being driven off by helicopter chases whose inhumane substandard have caused a public outrage. This administration is continuing the same secretive and destructive war on wild horses as Bush started - and Obama's promise on change rings hollow. BLM increases cattle to run on same public lands where they are removing horses, despite a congressional mandate to protect them. BLM ignores its federal mandate to remove livestock from federal horse management areas and if this continues, your grandchildren may never see a wild horse in the American West again. You, the American tax payers, are funding this gross injustice. The likely illegal continuance of these round ups is not only inhumane at best, but is challenged with litigation and increasing public pressure. It is a sad day, when the truth is cleverly disguised to benefit special interests and BLM keeps spending millions to quickly eradicate an irreplaceable piece of American history. Biased press coverage is no help either. The traumatizing of the horses is real; the suffering by cruel treatment a fact, the deaths and killings are not a fabricated John Grisham Thriller, but the story of the reality, which must be told. You and your grandkids deserve to know, and it is high times we do something before it is too late.
America's mustangs are the victims of a conspiracy, and you, the tax payer, the product of a scheme which not only uses your funds to sponsor this tragedy, but is fooling the American public into a major cover-up which affects us all. For more information, read Craig Downers latest book, which includes beautiful photos of wild horses and burros. The title is “The Wild Horse Conspiracy” and you can order it by contacting This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Help save and restore America's last wild horses and have pride in keeping them in the wild, on our public lands, where they belong.

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 13, 2012 2:54PM
There is far more cattle grazing on pulbic lands than horses. It is a policy of elimination for profit. As far as Mr. Kennedy's statement "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."  That doesn't make it okay or more acceptable; they also eat dogs in Asia too. And as Mr. Kennedy was former communications director for the National Cattleman's Beef Association! It doesn't surprise me what side he would slant his article.   
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 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 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 12, 2012 12:00PM

Slaughtering horses because they are used up at a racetrack, old, neglected, unwanted....sounds like a good reason to get rid of those politicians who support the horrendous torture of horses in concentrated Kill Mills. 


Next  they will "humanely" kill sick and unwanted seniors, children that "aren't perfect",,,,China provides a way for mothers to be paid to terminate pregnancies by paying them for the T-cells and Stem Cells.  Older citizens who have no family die in poverty and China offers a "humane shot" in exchange for a proper burial with respect.


Greed fuels horse slaughter...there is no humane in slaughter .. sending poisoned meat ... to children known to cause Cancer....Remember China and rat poison in baby formula....greed

Dec 12, 2012 9:16AM
they cost $74.9 million to take care of them in 2012......
Dec 12, 2012 4:53AM
Horsemeat is lean, well-flavored and nutritious. It is delicious smoked, dried like pemmican, stewed (older horsemeat has a tendency to be tough), roast in a moist oven, and as steaks when slaughter is done after no more than a year. Horse doesn't take as much from the environment per pound of flesh as do cattle, sheep or pigs, and doesn't' produce as much methane. It is, therefore, an excellent protein source.

The problems are that horses are almost as intelligent as poodles, have big doe-eyed faces, and pull the heart-strings of every city-dweller and PETA paint-thrower on the planet. 

There's no happy medium here. If you eat horse meat, half the world thinks you are a cannibal, and if you don't, the other half considers you a wuss.

Dec 12, 2012 12:02AM

Whenever I read articles such as this, I wonder about the writer/author.  So I googled the name.  He may have once been part of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association is some way. 

Anyone else done any research on it since it seems to be another slanted thought-process.









Dec 11, 2012 11:07PM
This article seem to only show one side of the story. Most of these areas are over grazed by too many horses, which is cruel to the land, the horses and other species. They are NOT a native species, but I am not advocating we remove them totally from the landscape.... just manage them like most other wild species. Feed them to the hungry people in this country or the starving people around the world. These horses are a wasted US resource.
Dec 11, 2012 9:49PM
all you horse lovers need to sign up and pay to keep them they are just like any other wild animal if not kept in ck they get deseased and poor health i have had horses all my life i breed and raise quarter horses there are so many horses in this country that are neglected and left to fend for themselves because of people who bought them relized what it takes to keep a horse and cant get rid of them because there is no killer market its njust like our penal system sure there are some innocents that die but thats the price to be paid in our society
Dec 11, 2012 9:47PM
Like I said  A recent documentary gave current account of how many mustangs roam the land and it was much lower than the BLM stated.  They are  not telling the truth  because they want the land eradicated of the horses at any cost.   Plus how much money is the gov't making on horse meat. 
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