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 9:24PM

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.


Dec 11, 2012 9:12PM
I live in a small town. I know a lot of farmers, ranchers, and horse lovers. The best thing the us government could do for the sake of horses and the economy is encourage and promote the slaughter of horses. I have horses and love rodeo. People who are against horse slaughter have nothing to do with rural American and have no knowledge of the agriculture industry.
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 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 11, 2012 8:52PM
Wow! I say eat more Horses! If we can eat Deer, Elk, Moose is it not basically the same as Horse. Oh Wait thats right! We need to stop eating meat and turn back into micro organisms living in the sea. Lets allow the animals to rule the earth again. BS I say open a Horse hunting season and let the fun begin. I would love to have a Horse hide rug to lay on in my living room with the Head mounted on the wall next to all the rest of the animals already hanging there. Get your Gun, Get your Bow, Lets GO! 
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 8:30PM
Another example of our corrupt government NOT serving the will of the people.  Timber harvesters, ranchers, mining conglomerates all get to use (rape) federal land and pay almost nothing for it and then whatever they plunder back to the taxpayers for exorbitant amounts of money in competition with other producers who don't have this unfair advantage.  If we got rid of lobbyists and put term limits on congress members and senators, we wouldn't have this disgusting corruption.

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. 

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 7:35PM
looks like a lot of cheap dog food. times are hard and it takes a lot of money to feed my watch dog.
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 7:09PM
Horse steak is great - especially young colts.
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.
Dec 11, 2012 6:52PM
We eat chicken, pigs, goats, lams, deer  and cows so why not horses?  What makes them special form other animals?  Horses are no longer needed in America as we now have cars.  They are only used in parades and to pull carriages in large cities.  
Dec 11, 2012 6:41PM
They are an invasive species that is detrimental to the enviroment- slaughter them ALL. Sell licenses and let the public take care of it- raises revenue and eliminates a problem......there that was easy.
Dec 11, 2012 6:38PM
When people over populate, what we eat them next? The Horse helped man become evolved and this is how we treat them. Watch your back you'll never know who is licking your chops to eat humans!!!!
Dec 11, 2012 6:32PM
U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management, Can just go to hell!!!! what is this country and the world coming to. pretty soon every one will start to eat other people because there are to many of them this is sick and should be stopped leave the horses alone let them roam free why are they killing them. This world will end because of ignorant people killing and destroying land and life
Dec 11, 2012 6:20PM
Good God people are you serious.. ????
Dec 11, 2012 6:15PM

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."

Dec 11, 2012 6:13PM
You haven't lived until you eat a ground sirloin of horse burger.  Lean and tasty, very little fat in the meat.  Just great.
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.  
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