Posts Tagged ‘horse slaughter

Horse Meat in the Food Chain

» December 10th, 2015


Exotic game meat is a specialty food item that’s becoming increasingly less special—currently it’s a $39 billion a year industry. This might be great news for consumers with a taste for bear, yak, lion, or beaver (you can place an online order with a quick click), but it’s not so great in terms of knowing what’s in our food.

Exotic meats shipped globally have long had a reputation for being mislabeled (in some cases, almost 70 percent of the time) and, closer to home, a recent Chapman University study found that the problem was prevalent in the United States as well. More to the point—and of possible concern to those who aren’t even in the market for exotic meat—the study found that some imported game contained traces of something that’s illegal to produce and sell commercially in the U.S.: horse meat.

Exactly how horse meat gets mixed up with other meat (processed or exotic) is hard to say. There are multiple points where supply chains might cross and most of them are obscured by the intricately global nature of the trade. But one pipeline stands out as a perfectly plausible source. Notably, it begins and ends in the U.S.

Read more here.

Whose Horse Crisis?

» September 3rd, 2013

As I’ve reported here before, there are a lot of interest groups wanting us to start eating horses. Slaughterhouses are cool with it. The Navajo, who are actively rounding up wild horses to sell to slaughterhouses, are cool with it. And now Tobin Harshaw, of Bloomberg News, is cool with it. The headline to his recent piece reads, “Wild Horses: We’ll Eat them Someday.” Warning: you might think it’s from the Onion. But it’s not. It’s “real news.”

All this recent salivation over the prospect of domestic horse meat is being fueled by the claim that western lands are experiencing a “horse crisis.” That assertion recently gained traction when the University of Montana’s Robert A. Garrott published a paper suggesting that “We’ll end up like Australia,” overrun with wild horses. Garrott, whose numbers are being scrutinized, recommends contraceptive programs. But Harshaw has a different idea: “What we really need is to call in the foodies.”

Sure! Let’s eat our way to the other end of the “horse crisis”! After all, he explains, “When traces of horse meat were found in supermarket products in the U.K. in January, many consumers were appalled, but nobody got sick.” Ah, well that whet’s the appetite. His bizarre  justification continues: “Opponents say that butchering horses is worse for the environment than killing cows, with more offal and blood runoff. That may be true, but it seems manageable through engineering.” Yes! Engineering! We can engineer a bloodless slaughterhouse!

Oh and this:  ”Lifting the bans on slaughtering wild mustangs and introducing them into a well-supervised and humane slaughter program seems the logical way to stop the population explosion and ease the BLM’s cash crunch.” Hmm. So, let’s get everything straight: we’ll promote slaughter so the BLM can get back on it’s feet and continue to promote . . .  slaughter.

I wish I could say I was shocked by the stupidity of this piece, and I’m almost reluctant to bring it up and lend it more eyes on the page. But–and I know we know this–it’s important to appreciate how low the bar has been set when it comes to writing about animals in the popular media. This is Bloomberg News, after all, an otherwise reputable source of news that somehow let Harshaw end his piece with this question: “Would you rather have these creatures overwhelming their ecosystem and dying of starvation, or served as tartare with a quail egg at your corner brasserie?”

Is this guy serious?




GAO on Horse Abuse

» August 14th, 2013

A version of this piece ran a couple of days ago at Pacific Standard. It was picked up by Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish, last night. This story deserves to work its way up the journalistic food chain because it’s a vivid reminder about the corruption at the core of our political system, one that has little regard for animals but lot of love in its heart for unfettered corporate greed. I would like to thank Vickery Eckhoff and John Holland for their invaluable help on this issue. 

The vast majority of Americans—over 80 percent—oppose the idea of slaughtering horses in the United States. Not surprisingly, there was minimal public oppositionwhen, in 2007, Congress, citing rampant welfare abuse and safety violations, cut off funding for the USDA inspection of U.S. horse slaughterhouses. This decision effectively ended the business of slaughtering horses domestically.

In November 2011, however, an agriculture appropriations bill signed by Congress reinstated funding for inspection. The legislative path for states to reopen horse slaughterhouses is now clear. Today, with the domestic cattle market in a drought-induced tailspin, New Mexico, Missouri, Wyoming, Tennessee, Iowa, and Oklahoma are on the verge of sending horses it once sent to Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses into the clutches of domestic abattoirs. Other states, seeking a way to capitalize on horses that have lost their value or can be bought cheaply at meat prices, are eager to follow. A New Mexico meat processing plant has even made arrangements with the Navajo Nation to corral wild horses in anticipation of the impending slaughter fest. All that’s holding this off for right now is a lawsuit from the Humane Society of the United States.

The pivotal piece of evidence that convinced Congress to change its mind on the matter of domestic horse slaughter was a GAO analysis published in June 2011(PDF). Senators Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin) and Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) and Representative Jack Kingston (R-Georgia) commissioned it. Titled, “Actions Needed to Address Unintended Consequences From Cessation of Domestic Slaughter,” the report found “a rise in investigations for horse neglect and more abandoned horses since 2007”—the year the plants were closed. The “unintended consequence” of closing horse slaughterhouses, the report explained, was an increase in the abuse of horses. Reinstating domestic slaughterhouses, it suggested, would diminish this rising problem of neglect among owners who neither wanted to keep their horses nor were willing to send them abroad for slaughter. This argument was one that the slaughter lobby has been making since slaughterhouse closings in 2007. Pro-slaughter advocates were more than pleased to hear the news.

Something about this report, however, seemed suspicious before it was even published. Charlie Stenholm, former Texas Congressman and now policy advisor to the D.C.-based law firm Olsson, Frank, and Weeda (which specializes in helping agribusiness negotiate federal red tape and recently hired an attorney who specializes in agricultural deals with Native Americans), told a conference of pro-slaughter interests in Las Vegas that the GAO report—which would not come out for another six months—contained very good news. Wyoming state rep. Sue Wallis, slaughter advocate extraordinaire, was evidently doing the same.

When the report officially dropped in June 2011, Stenholm and Wallace were proven correct. The Senate quickly wrote an appropriations bill removing the provision that defunded inspection. Because the House had an amendment preserving the language, the bill went to committee, where the vote was three to one in favor of restoring funding for domestic horse slaughterhouses. Those three votes came, alas, from Senators Kohl and Blunt and Representative Kingston.

All very fishy. But what really stinks about the GAO report is the math. Because national data is not available on reported horse abuse, the GAO went to six states and found—in the only case of hard numbers that it provides in the entire report—that “Colorado data showed that investigations for horse neglect and abuse increased more than 60 percent from 975 in 2005 to 1,588 in 2009.” Sounds pretty dramatic—until you recall that the slaughter ban passed in 2007. Not 2005. This matters.

As it turns out, horse abuse in Colorado did rise rapidly from 2005 through the end of 2007 (before the ban). But, starting in 2008, it declined precipitously through 2010 (a year for which numbers are available but the GAO tellingly admitted). The report thus made it seem as if abuse spiked after the closing of slaughterhouses. In fact, it continued for less than a year after the ban was instated and then declined rapidly.


Figure 1: Colorado Department of Agriculture data

It is further worth noting that the GAO had access to similar figures on horse abuse investigations from five other states—Illinois, Idaho, Georgia, Maine, and Oregon. The GAO’s decision not to include this information makes little sense unless it was deliberately trying to skew the picture of horse abuse in favor of pro-slaughter interests. To wit: Four states for which there are data show a dramatic decline in horse abuse after 2007 while one—Idaho—shows no movement one way or the other. Ignoring these figures, the GAO decided instead to focus on Colorado, evidently hoping nobody wouldnotice its creative presentation of the numbers.


Figure 2: Data from the agriculture departments of six states

Despite the report’s suggestion that the need for local slaughterhouses is an urgent matter, the GAO fails to note something quite extraordinary about the situation: Only about one percent of existing domestic horses are slaughtered every year. Ninety-two percent of that one percent, according to Temple Grandin, are healthy and devoid of behavioral problems. They’re bucking horses that won’t buck and racehorses that won’t win and quarter horses that nobody is buying from breeders because hay prices are too high. The only thing that’s urgent in this entire scenario is the desire to profit from sending these healthy horses to slaughter.

Horse abuse and neglect is a small problem that got smaller with the closure of slaughterhouses. The GAO—and the slaughter lobby it seems to represent—falsely presents it as a large problem getting larger. It wants us to envision a situation in which a recession and drought are overwhelming horse owners to the point that they’re neglecting sick and ailing horses en masse. Give them easy access to a domestic slaughterhouse, so goes the argument, and abuse will decline.

In fact, it is the exact opposite that’s true. Abuse went down after slaughterhouses were closed. All that domestic slaughterhouses would provide is an easy and profitable excuse to send many more healthy horses to a premature death for meat that we don’t even eat in this country. It’s all very sad logic upon which to rebuild an industry.

“They’re Sacred Animals”

» August 1st, 2013

The debate over Valley Meat Co. continues. Valley Meat, located in Roswell, New Mexico, wants to be the first meat-processing plant to start slaughtering horses since the federal government withdrew funding for the inspection of horse slaughterhouses in 2007.

I’ve discussed the dirty politics and misinformation campaigns surrounding this debate elsewhere, but suffice it to say that the machinations of Valley Meat have been egregious enough to warrant pointed public opposition from that state’s Republican governor, Susana Martinez, it’s former governor Bill Richardson, State Land Commissioner Ray Powell, the actor and activist Robert Redford, and an injunction filed by HSUS.

Last week a “suspicious” fire broke out at Valley Meat, and many are suggesting foul play by animal activists. A lawyer for Valley Meat called it “an act of domestic terrorism.” So, literally, this issue is on fire.

The latest cohort to step into the heat is the Navajo Nation. Erny Zah, a spokesperson for the Navajo, has said that upwards of 20,000 to 30,000 feral horses roam the 27,000 square miles owned by the Navajo (the land covers sections of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico). Zah’s only substantive remark to the press about the Navaho position was, alas, contradictory. On the one hand, he said, “We also have a kinship with our land. There’s a delicate balance there. Everything is related, everything is intertwined. When one is out of balance, we have to take care of that delicate balance.”  And on the other, “They’re sacred animals.”

Say what?

I’m dubious of this sudden Navaho support for a couple of reasons. First, provided the feral horse problem is even as serious as they say, there’s no effort by Navajo leaders (who, recall, consider the wild horse sacred) to explore more respectful forms of population control, including gelding stallions, injecting contraceptives, and,only  when necessary, euthanizing.  Costs for the former two procedures are around $200 a horse and falling.  Second, it’s oh so very convenient that, just when Valley Meat’s efforts to legalize horse slaughter hit full tilt, an Indian nation shows up to offer than 20,000–30,000 horses on a platter. What will the Navajo get for delivering these animals to Roswell? Needless to say, they’re not saying.

Talk about suspicious.


Horse Politics

» April 18th, 2013

Note: I think this ongoing horse story is important for many reasons. What really frightens me about it is that it looks like the pro-slaughter camp is going to win. Such a victory would be a massive blow to anyone who cares about animal rights and/or ending factory farming. It is for this reason that I’m spending so much time on the topic at Eating Plants. The article below ran yesterday at Visit the link and if you like the article hit “like” and if you have a comment, leave a comment here and there. It’s also worth reading the comments. Really. -jm

As Americans watch Europeans condemn the discovery of horsemeat in their Ikea meatballs, we can take some solace in the fact that, for once, we’ve sidestepped an industrial food-related travesty. Our complacency, however, could be short-lived. Although less dramatic than horse DNA adulterating ground beef, another horse-related scandal is about to implicate U.S. citizens in a scheme that will send tainted horsemeat into foreign markets while enriching U.S. horse slaughterers with taxpayer dollars.

The last U.S.-based horse slaughterhouse closed in 2007. The phasing out of horse slaughter in the United States ended the exportation of U.S.-produced horsemeat to Canada, Europe, and Japan. This development, among other accomplishments, spelled the decline of a niche business that profited from a product that American taxpayers financially supported (through USDA inspection of horse slaughterhouses) but were loathe to consume (plus, it’s illegal to sell horsemeat in the U.S.).

Over the past six years, though, a small cohort of national lobbyists and state representatives has worked to reopen U.S. horse slaughterhouses. Five states—Oklahoma, Montana, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Iowa—have already taken legislative steps in that direction. Their collective justification for doing so is that U.S. slaughterhouses are better for the welfare of horses. Without them, they argue, an endless stream of retired race horses will inevitably head to Mexico for slaughter, a terrifying prospect for animals who, advocates further contend, will meet an especially gruesome south-of-the-border death.

On the surface, this argument seems to make sense. Why slaughter horses abroad when we can do so at home? A closer look, however, reveals three problems, each of which suggests that any claim to reinstate horse slaughter on welfare grounds is simply a cynical ploy to dupe Americans into supporting a business most of us find abhorrent.

First, advocates of U.S. horse slaughter—the very people who insist they care about shortening the distance a horse travels for slaughter—opposed legislation restricting the distance horses could travel in the aftermath of the American closings. Sue Wallis, a Wyoming state representative and the most vocal proponent of reopening slaughterhouses (they call her “Slaughterhouse Sue”), wrote in 2009 that, “A key early initiative is to muster resources to oppose bills now pending in Congress that would ban the transportation of horses to other countries for the purpose of slaughter.” The intent here was as simple as it was sinister: to normalize long horse hauls to foreign soil and then highlight its inherent cruelty, thereby buttressing the case for a more “humane” local option.

Second, the claim that Mexican slaughterhouses are comparatively inhumane is equally problematic. Plants where U.S. horses have been slaughtered in Mexico are owned by the same European Union companies that once owned horse slaughterhouses in the United States. Supporters of local slaughter suggest that U.S. horses are being killed in an especially cruel and unregulated manner in Mexican-owned slaughterhouses, mainly by stabbing them in the spine. In fact, EU companies deploy standard procedures, using (most notably) captive bolt guns to stun horses before bleeding and processing them, just as they do in Europe and once did in the U.S. Ironically, the only documented cases we have of horse slaughterhouse cruelty and abuse come from the U.S. (back when slaughterhouses were legal).

Third, advocates of U.S. horse slaughter insist that, without the reinstitution of slaughter at home, an unmanageable number of horses will continue to suffer the indignities described above. But the numbers don’t support this claim. Nearly 90 percent of U.S. horses die of natural causes or are euthanized at home. Bill Bullard, a California state representative and supporter of U.S. horse slaughter, says that the horse industry is desperate for “a way to dispose of our old, diseased, lame horses.” In fact, that problem has already been solved for the overwhelming majority of horses. They die the way our pets die—more often than not with quiet dignity.

Duplicity is one thing. But the upshot of this manufactured crisis is even worse: an impending public health disaster of global proportions. What supporters of U.S. slaughter never tell us is that the 150,000 or so U.S. horses that are annually slaughtered for export are bombarded daily with a hit list of toxic drugs, most notably phenylbutazone (“bute”), a common painkiller. While innocuous for horses, bute can cause, even in trace doses, aplastic anemia, agranulocytosis, thrombocytopenia, leucopenia, pancytopenia, and hemolytic anemia in humans. Eating U.S. horses, according to Tufts Veterinary professor Nicolas Dodman, “is about as healthful as food contaminated with DDT.”  The USDA currently has no program to regulate these substances.

In other words, lost in all the discussions about horse slaughter and horsemeat is a fundamental point: horses are not raised for food. They are, in essence, an industrial product. For Americans to recycle them into an edible but toxic by-product for foreigners to eat, doing so with taxpayer dollars and through an underfunded USDA, would be bad for everyone involved, most notably the 150,00 horses a year who’d be much better off not being used as Trojan horses to hide the profits of those who claim to care about them.

No More Horsing Around in Oklahoma

» April 4th, 2013

As Vickery Eckhoff has reported, last Friday the Oklahoma legislature reversed a fifty year ban on horse slaughter. The signing of HB 1999 represents a small but critical step in the larger effort to legalize horse slaughter nationally. Oklahoma now joins four other states in seeking USDA inspection for horse slaughterhouses. The lege, Eckhoff reports, took less than 20 seconds to pass the bill.

In one sense, the inertial gravitation toward legal horse slaughter makes little sense. It’s illegal to sell horse meat in the United States, so an eager domestic market isn’t at the ready. The European Union, where horse meat is consumed with some regularity, passed a law in 2011 banning the purchase of horse meat from U.S. horses because there’s no regulation of equine drug intake. According to the law’s letter, there’s no market in Europe, either.  Over 80 percent of Americans, and 66 percent of Oklahomans, oppose the idea of horse slaughter. The USDA is experiencing the squeeze of sequestration and, as a result, is unlikely to break out of it to fund horse slaughter with US tax dollars. Why would anyone seek to slaughter horses in this context? Well, there’s more to the story.

In a larger and more cynical sense, Oklahoma’s decision is perfectly logical. The effort to reintroduce horse slaughter is being led by a cabal of self-interested stakeholders whose view is the long term security of any industry that mass slaughters animals. People such as Sue Wallis, a Wyoming state representative, and Skye McNiel, an Oklahoma congresswoman, are, I would venture, as interested in the future of industrialized animal slaughter per se as they are the immediacy of horse slaughter. Another way of saying what I’m trying to say here is that horse slaughter represents a symbolic extension—and thus an affirmation—of the kind of factory farming of animals that not only animal rights groups, but sustainable food groups, deeply oppose. The thought is this: if we can get horse slaughter re-legalized, then the generalized threat to industrial agriculture will be greatly defused.  Sort of like insurance runs in baseball.

This is one of those rare moments when animal rights advocates should see eye-to-eye with sustainable food advocates (who have, regrettably, ignored this issue as much as anyone).  If my hypothesis is correct, a lot more is at stake than a few fat cats getting fatter through subsidized horse slaughter. The normalization of horse slaughter would, in the framework of the sustained struggle to reduce animal exploitation, make a mockery of the efforts of both sustainable food reformers and animal rights activists to put an end to the evils of factory farming.  If slaughtering horses is legalized, our efforts are marginalized.


Keep Holding Your Horses

» October 9th, 2012


Jerry Finch, President of Habitat for Horses, posted this open letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on his website. He sent it to me yesterday, and I’m posting the full text below. The letter, written by attorney Laura Allen, elaborates on my concerns expressed in the last paragraph of yesterday’s Eating Plants post. The more I read and learn about the effort to start slaughtering horses again in the United States, the more I realize what a horrific mess we’d be making.


Dear Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack:

The Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) Administrator, Alfred Almanza, has been quoted as saying that the agency is moving quickly to accommodate two pending applications to open horse slaughter plants in the U.S.  Though as I understand since then, the applicant in New Mexico has withdrawn the application, and the Missouri applicant is beset with legal problems and was apparently not even the owner of the property proposed for the horse slaughter facility and cannot acquire any ownership interest.

Regardless, a horse slaughter proponent is circulating a “petition” to urge FSIS to move more quickly in approving applications and make inspectors available for horse slaughter for human consumption. The USDA has a number of legal obligations when it comes to slaughtering equines for human consumption; USDA cannot meet any of these obligations and for this and economic, environmental and other health and safety reasons, should not allow horse slaughter.

Substantial Taxpayer Costs with No Economic Benefit

As the U.S. struggles to climb out of the most devastating economic recession since the Great Depression, it is puzzling why  FSIS would take funds from an already depleted budget to use for a program to inspect horses to be slaughtered for human consumption.  Surely, the threats to food safety and humane treatment of animals are already significant with a reduced budget.  Why would any funds be used for a program that results in no economic benefit to the U.S. and instead threatens the health and safety of our local communities and equines?

Prior to the closure of the 3 horse slaughter plants in 2007, FSIS spent approximately $5,000,000 annually for inspectors, basically subsidizing the three foreign-owned (Belgian and French) horse slaughterhouses. Americans don’t eat equines so there were no sales of horsemeat domestically and thus no sales tax revenues from slaughter. Horse slaughter facilities pay virtually no income taxes. One facility operating in Texas prior to 2007 paid $5 in federal income tax one year on $12 million dollars in sales. In the preceding 5 years the federal income tax was .3% or 1/3 of 1% of gross revenues or sales.  A forensic analysis of the tax returns revealed that the company avoided U.S. income taxes by selling  the horsemeat at a loss to an entity it owned in another country and then that entity distributed the product overseas at substantial profit. With no sales or distribution in the U.S. and no tax revenue, there is simply no benefit to the U.S. economy from horse slaughter.

The property tax revenue to Kaufman, Texas where a horse slaughter facility operated until 2007 was generally less than $2,000 per year, a mere pittance when compared to the city’s costs for pursuing the facility’s continual violations of its wastewater permit and in working to address violations of regulations of Texas Dept. of Health and the Commission on Environmental Quality. The city’s legal fees just to address issues related to the horse slaughter plant exceeded its entire budget for legal fees in one year. The city was even fined by the TCEQ for the plant’s failure to comply with backflow regulations that meant horse blood and waste backed up into sinks, toilets and tubs. When the plant finally closed, the city was left with nearly $100,000 in unpaid fines for wastewater permit violations.

The situation was no different at the horse slaughter plant in Ft. Worth and the other in DeKalb, Illinois.  In DeKalb, the horse slaughter facility had waste permits that allowed contamination levels for waste water that were eight times higher than usual. Yet, the facility was out of compliance hundreds of times. It was not a matter of having old facilities. The owner, Cavel International, built a state-of-the-art pre-treatment system that became operational in 2004. The facility remained out of compliance with its permit regularly until it finally closed in 2007. The blood and waste from slaughtered horses oozed from the state of the art tanks. There were also hundreds of FSIS violations.

The same was true of Canadian Natural Valley Farms where a 2008 investigation revealed the state of the art waste pre-treatment facility overflowed as well with blood and waste, and large amounts of waste and blood were dumped into nearby rivers. When the state of the art facility was shut down, the community was left with environmental contamination and a bankrupt company that claimed $42 million in losses.

None of this includes the plummeting property values, loss of new business, increased crime rates and a general stench and pall that hung over the communities. All courtesy of the horse slaughter plant. This is what President Obama’s USDA wants for American communities?

If horse slaughterhouses are allowed to re-open, they would again be subsidized by American taxpayers. Estimates are that the U.S. government would spend at least $3,000,000-5,000,000 annually to subsidize private horse slaughter facilities.

On top of that, the USDA could give foreign owners of U.S. horse slaughter facilities, such as Bouvry, the Canadian company that has explored the possibility of opening a horse slaughter plant near Stanwood, Washington, or the Belgian company, Chevideco, which claims it may contribute to the building of a horse slaughter house in Oregon or Missouri, a subsidized loan of $750,000 through the RUS World Utilities Services.

Mr. Vilsack, it is outrageous that the American taxpayer should support wealthy investors in a business that profits from animal cruelty, benefits only foreign interests and wrecks the U.S. communities where the facilities are located. This money would surely be much better spent on American interests. It would seem more appropriate for USDA to focus on the live horse industry worth $112.1 billion of gross domestic product.

Few Low Wage Jobs

The argument that significant jobs would be created is specious. Horse slaughter plants operating until 2007 never created more than 178 low wage jobs -and many of these were held by illegal aliens. When horse slaughter plants operated in the U.S., this meant workers and their families overran local resources like the hospitals and government services. It meant low income housing and a decline in the overall standard of living.

Slaughter Contributes to Numbers of Horses in Need

Slaughter proponents have widely claimed that slaughter is somehow an alternative for “unwanted” horses. Nothing could be further from the truth. Slaughter actually creates a salvage or secondary market that enables overbreeding and poor breeding practices. Slaughter and a poor economy have resulted in horses in need. Slaughter is driven by a demand for horsemeat in some foreign countries; it is not a “service” for unwanted horses and that is why, as one of your department’s own studies confirms, most horses, 92.3%, are healthy when they are sent to slaughter. Kill buyers are interested in buying the healthiest horses for horsemeat that is sold as a delicacy in some foreign countries.

The rise in numbers of horses in need and drop in horse prices is a result of the worst recession in memory. In fact, if slaughter controlled numbers of horses in need, there would be none as slaughter is still available and horses are sent to slaughter in the same numbers as before the 2007 closings of the slaughterhouses that were located in the U.S. It is the availability of slaughter that actually increases the numbers of excess horses and other equines on the market. Banning slaughter would reduce the number of excess horses and other equines.

Also, slaughter accounts for only about 3 cents for every $100 of the equine industry. It makes no sense for anyone to suggest a limited salvage market could influence prices in the entire horse industry.

The Live Horse Industry

Again, it is the live horse industry that USDA should support. Most horses end up at slaughter because they are purchased by kill buyers. Many horses could have easily been purchased by someone else other options include adoption programs, placing them as pasture mates/babysitters to a younger horse, donating them for use in horse therapy, or placing them in a retirement home.

Humane Euthanasia is Available and Affordable

Also, about 900,000 horses are humanely euthanized in the U.S. each year. The infrastructure could easily absorb those sent to slaughter. The average cost of humane euthanasia including the farm call and either burial, rendering or placement in a landfill can be as little as $50 depending on the method used, and at most $400.

Humane Methods of Slaughter Act Unenforceable for Equines

The USDA is responsible for enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, 7 USC Sec. 1902(a)(“HMSA”). USDA/FSIS failed miserably at this when horse slaughter was legal. That is because the slaughter of horses and other equines simply cannot be made humane: Dr. Lester Friedlander, DVM & former Chief USDA Inspector, told Congress in 2008 that the captive bolt used to slaughter horses is simply not effective. Horses and other equines, in particular, are very sensitive about anything coming towards their heads and cannot be restrained as required for effective stunning. Dr. Friedlander stated, “These animals regain consciousness 30 seconds after being struck, they are fully aware they are being vivisected.” The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) in 2004, GAO-04-247; and dozens of veterinarians and other witnesses have confirmed that ineffective stunning is common and animals are conscious during slaughter. It is simply not possible for USDA/FSIS to make equine slaughter humane and it is a myth to pretend otherwise. Also, the GAO in 3 subsequent reports in 2008, GAO-08-686T; and 2010, GAO-10-203 and GAO-10-487T, has continued to find disparities and inconsistencies in FSIS enforcement of HMSA, an abysmal record of tolerating cruelty at slaughter facilities.

Having to provide sufficient FSIS inspectors even to try to enforce HMSA means even more cost to the taxpayer. For a job that cannot be done when it comes to equines.

Commercial Transportation of Equines to Slaughter Act Unenforceable

GAO has also confirmed that USDA/APHIS has not – and cannot – enforce transport regulations for equines sent to slaughter. 9 CFR Sections 88.1-88.6. Changing a few words here and there in the regulations will not make transport of equines to slaughter humane.  USDA/APHIS allows the kill buyers and haulers to fill out and provide the documentation – which is routinely missing, incomplete or inaccurate – relied on for enforcement. It is impossible to enforce regulations when the information to determine violations is supplied solely by the kill buyers and haulers, the very people USDA/APHIS is supposed to be regulating.

A 2010 Office of Inspector General report confirmed APHIS lacks the resources and controls to enforce regulations for humane transport of equines to slaughter. Not only is the information relied on for enforcement supplied by the kill buyers and haulers, APHIS continues to approve of new shipments to slaughter by kill buyers or haulers that have outstanding unpaid fines for violations of humane regulations. The current regulations do not give APHIS the authority to refuse approval.

OIG also found there is no  adequate system for tracking the information, such as it is, that is supplied by the kill buyers and haulers about the horses. It is very difficult to track what happens to the horses, meaning enforcement is virtually non-existent. Also, APHIS often does not receive any information from kill buyers or haulers. OIG noted in 2011 that for the past year or more, APHIS had not received the required paperwork, owner/shipper certificates, from kill buyers or haulers for any horses sent from Texas to Mexico.

On top of that, APHIS only has two agents to try to enforce these regulations. Your agency is hamstrung by its own regulations and cannot assure humane transport of equines to slaughter. There is every reason to think your agency could not even begin to assure humane transport of horses within the U.S. to newly opened slaughter facilities.

Food Safety

The Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) does not regulate equines as food animals. Americans don’t eat horses and other equines. American horses are not raised, fed and medicated within the FDA guidelines established for food animals, making them unfit and unsafe for human consumption. Equines are given all manner of drugs, steroids, de-wormers and ointments throughout their lives. Equines are not tracked and typically may have several owners. There is no way to know when they are sold for slaughter what these animals have ingested over their lives.

The danger of American horsemeat to consumers was confirmed in a study, “Association of Phenylbutazone (Bute) Usage with Horses Bought for Slaughter” that was published in Food and Chemical Toxicology and authored by Dr. Ann Marini, Department of Neurology, Uniformed University of the Health Sciences; Nicolas Dodman, DVM, Tufts University, and Dr. Nicolas Blondeau, The Institute of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology.

A kill buyer has no idea of the veterinary or drug history of a horse or other equine taken to slaughter, and many of the most dangerous drugs have no or a very long withdrawal period. A typical drug given routinely to equines like aspirin, phenylbutazone or Bute, is a carcinogen and can also cause aplastic anemia in humans. It has no withdrawal period. The FDA bans bute in all food producing animals because of this serious danger to human health. The FDA and USDA would prohibit Americans from consuming horses because of this danger. Yet, neither the FDA nor the USDA prohibits the export of American horses for slaughter for human consumption. It is a grave risk to public health to continue to allow the export of American horses for slaughter for human consumption in other countries.

The European Union has recognized this and has initiated steps to try to stop the import into the EU of meat from American horses that may be contaminated. Kill buyers have been found to falsify veterinary and drug reports to avoid the restrictions. There is no enforcement at the borders, meaning the US continues to dump contaminated and deadly horsemeat on Europe and other countries. A petition has been filed with the USDA to stop the slaughter of many U.S. horses for this reason.


Mr. Vilsack, in view of all of this, why would the Obama administration allow, let alone facilitate as a priority, the opening of horse slaughter facilities in the U.S.?  I would urge the administration to reconsider this and instead work with horse owners, animal welfare organizations, the 80% of Americans who want horse slaughter banned, to end this grisly practice once and for all. Equines are in danger and equine welfare is threatened as long as slaughter remains available.


» October 4th, 2012

The chef of the M. Wells Dinette, Hugue Dufour, who opened at MoMA PS 1 last week in New York City, is the brainchild behind a new culinary creation (one that he says he might put on his menu): horse tartar. The stunt isn’t new. Last May, the chef served a horse-meat bologna and foie gras grilled cheese sandwich at a food festival in the city. Adventure eating foodies got a perverse thrill out of it, posting pictures of the heart-stopper all over the foodie blogospere.  The story has been covered by Vickery  Eckhoff, who knows more about the politics of horse slaughter than anyone else. (Her stories on the topic–written for Forbes–are fantastic).

The sale of horse meat is illegal in the United States. The Dinette evidently intends to source it from Canada (where the sale and slaughter is legal), but the meat is not USDA approved, so it would still be illegal to serve it at MoMA PS1. The restaurant evidently isn’t answering phone calls nor is Mr. Dufour returning e-mails. Horse advocates–a rare breed of activist–are incensed. The restaurant’s owner declared “There is no story.” Weirdly, the media has kind of agreed (thankfully, not Eckhoff).

WHY is horse meat illegal in the US? The answer is pretty simple–-turns out horse meat poses unique health hazards to humans as a result of the the numerous drugs horses are routinely given throughout their lifetime–mostly painkillers–many of them explicitly banned by the FDA. Given what a horse destined for a slaughterhouse is dosed with throughout the course of his life, eating horse meat makes pink slime look like a healthy snack.

The irony here is that adventure-eating foodies who would never deign to eat a piece of conventionally produced steak because of all the growth hormones etc etc are, by eating horse meat, exposing themselves to a much more complex chemical cocktail of snake venom, steroids, Clenbuterol, Banamine, Ivermectin, and a host of other drugs when they sit down to Dufour’s table. These drugs make horse meat far more contaminated than beef, pork, or any other meat sold legally in the US. When horse meat is raw, the risk of exposure is especially acute.

Not to mention the ethics of this raw mess of a meal, one that I hope never makes it to Dufour’s sinister menu.

Update, Oct. 5, 9:54 pm: looks like it never will make it to the menu–


Gag: Foie Gras and Horse Meat

» December 3rd, 2011


Early last week Congress voted to lift the ban on horse slaughter in the United States. [] The act, buried in a much larger bill, has surely sent a gagillion horse-crazy people into deep depression. But the message I’m getting from many in the animal welfare world is that this decision was a good one for domestic horses. Turns out the most common destination for U. S. horses deemed ready for slaughter was Mexico, where slaughterhouse regulation is comparatively weak. Horses killed in the United States, I’m told, will assuredly be better off than if they’d been killed in Mexico. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, partially in deference to this logic, supported the measure.

This justification makes sense–at least as it’s framed. But what I find especially disturbing is the frame. Think about it: we’re up in arms over where an animal should be slaughtered rather than thinking seriously about whether or not we should be slaughtering it at all. Such an ethical by-pass is a stark reminder of how, in a food world defined by growing inquisitiveness, our thinking about the place of animals in our diet remains deeply impoverished. How can it be that, in a culinary culture that’s never been more aggressive about investigating food, we refuse to even remotely entertain the prospect that eating a horse might be a tragedy?

To expand the frame a bit, consider a duck. A significant number of ethically concerned consumers deem foie gras nothing short of a diabolical slice of suffering. Famous chefs have sworn off the stuff, and I wish I had a dime for every omnivore I know who passionately opposes foie gras on ethical grounds. What’s interesting is that this opinion prevails despite humanity’s relatively remote relationship with the duck–we’ve never worked or lived closely with these creatures. Their history is hardly intertwined with ours. Still, we’re vehement about protecting their livers. This position, of course, stands in stark contrast to the collective yawn we just let out upon hearing that the horse–an animal with whom we’ve plowed fields, colonized continents, waged war, and (with thankful rarity) buggered [[]]–may be coming to meat counter near you.

If duck liver is verboten but horse meat is in, we have some explaining to do. The most common response to this disparity will be that it’s the the way an animal is raised that matters when it comes to eating ethically. Ducks suffer when tubes are shoved in their throats and their livers are fattened; horses, however, can (so we’re told) lead a good life and die in peace in the comfort of a loving abattoir. You know this drill. But such an argument only perpetuates a mentality that ensures we’ll never make progress when it comes to improving the lives of animals. In sum, to eat horse meat (or condone it) while deeming foie gras ethically unsound is to perpetuate what you clearly disdain: the poor treatment of animals. Let me try and explain why.

Most opponents of foie gras come to their position after hearing about or seeing videos of ducks being force-fed mush through a tube jammed into their gullets. Even if it’s true that ducks lack a gag reflex, these searing images disgust us. It’s worthing thinking about why. Is it because we believe an animal deserves equal moral consideration and, as a result, should not be force fed so humans can pay $40 a plate to eat their internal organs? No, for many of us, this is not the problem. After all, many (most?) people who won’t eat foie gras are probably just fine eating the duck itself. Instead, our opposition, however unlikely, arises from the fact that humans can gag. Every one of us has choked on something in our lives and we know that its a crappy feeling. Can you imagine your whole life with a tube stuck in your throat? Yes, we can, and it’s for this very reason that we can also directly empathize with ducks in confinement and, no matter how distant our shared past, no matter how foreign we are to them, declare force-feeding, and hence its products, abhorrently inhumane.

Now take the horse. Because we know horses as well as we do, because they’ve been integral to so much of human history, we also know that they’re capable of living exceedingly happy lives. Our bond with these animals has been enduring; our past with them tight. Why is it then that most of us are able to discuss their slaughter–even PETA!–as if where the most natural act in the world? How is it that even the most openly welfare minded of consumers can casually subjugate the ethics of slaughter to the logistics of location? I’d say the answer has to do with empathy. That is, whereas we can empathize with having a tube shoved into our throats, most of us cannot (thankfully) even remotely empathize with being shunted off to a slaughterhouse.This prospect is quite fortunately beyond the realm of even the more sordid of our imaginations. We literally cannot relate to such a scenario.

Which brings me to the upshot. Because we cannot imagine what it would be like for ourselves to be culled and killed, we have the luxury of fabricating what the experience is like for the animal we want to eat. Herein lies the heart of the distinction between the hatred of foie gras and acceptance of horse meat. Our actual inability to empathize with what an animal endures when it’s slaughtered allows us to project whatever we want to project upon that inherently tragic moment. They lived a good life. They didn’t know what was coming. Temple Grandin designed the slaughterhouse. They sacrificed their lives for us. And so on. We cannot make the same rationalizations for ducks raised for foie gras for a very simple reason: we would know, as a result of our own experience, that any positive projection we came up with would be a distortion of reality. We would know this because, alas, we gag.

The deeper value of the “empathy test” is that it reiterates the most essential similarity humans share with animals: sentience. Humans, just like animals, experience pleasure and pain. Our empathy provides the bridge between our sentience and theirs. The fact that so many consumers reject foie gras because of the painful manner in which ducks are fed, and the fact that the way they are fed is a phenomenon to which we can directly relate, is ipso facto proof that many consumers already recognize the moral baseline of sentience. Anyone who thinks that it’s possible to eschew liver but eat horse–or any animal product, for that matter–is choking on self-deception.