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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There is an excellent documentary, "Wild Horses & Renegades", that exposes the policies of the BLM on the mustangs and burros. It is a corrupt (surprise, surprise) system that is clearing our public lands to make way for grazing permits (largely corporate herds), pipeline construction, uranium strip mining operations, etc. The process is cruel. It even says that there was one group of 1200 horses rounded up and forgotten in a pen. They died of dehydration.
A petition is being circulated to have Congressman Raul Grijalva appointed as Interior Secretary (which oversees the Bureau of Land Management). He is seen as someone who understands environmental issues, including those involving the wild mustangs and burros. The petition needs 25,000 signatures by Dec. 31, 2012. The link is below.
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 .
I don't want my wild horses turned into meat. How about the rest of you cowards? Do something about it! All you have to do is write to your congressmen and congresswomen and let them know that if an immediate stop isn't put to this practice, they will never see another term -- EVER. I believe they would probably all be Republicans, But I wouldn't stake my life on it.
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."
in the early 70d's i worked pulling ocean refer containers coming from Australia out of rail yards in the us to meat purveyors. at the time they advertised all meat patties. each container was loaded with 40,000 lbs of horse meat kept frozen using liquid nitrogen.
how is this possible you ask? get on the fda site and look up the definition of frozen, beef and how much bone meal is allowed in ground chicken and turkey.
while you do this what you will hear inside you head is kelly clarkson "what won't kill you will make you stronger."
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