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.