The case for filet of filly


Imagine a proposal to scatter millions of pounds of poisoned meat around the United States, close to human populations. Much of it would be accessible to scavengers — including eagles, hawks, coyotes, foxes and badgers, as well as dogs and cats. Any animal feeding on the poisoned meat would probably die.

This scenario is likely, now that the opponents of slaughtering horses are having their way. For many years, unwanted horses have routinely been sent to slaughter. Some horsemeat becomes pet food, but much is exported to Europe for human consumption. Horse-slaughter opponents tend to think of horses as beloved pets, much like cats or dogs, and in America, the last thing we would do is eat a pet. In Europe, however, horsemeat is a staple, and it’s found on many menus.

The opponents of horse-slaughter have concentrated their efforts on stopping the export of horsemeat for human consumption. Since “filet of filly” is a dish that repels Americans, their campaign has generated some sympathy. Exporting American horses to feed foreign palates has also been labeled unpatriotic, with critics calling the practice contrary to American values.

Now, a poison-meat scenario has become the alternative to government-regulated slaughter of unwanted horses. On March 29, the last U.S. horse-slaughter plant was closed, by order of a federal judge in the District of Columbia who found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture hadn’t followed proper procedures in setting up a fee-supported system for inspecting facilities that slaughter horses for human consumption. (Congress had earlier cut off government funding for such inspections.) The DeKalb, Ill., plant was the last still operating in the U.S.; two Texas plants were forced to stop operating by state laws against possessing, selling or transporting horsemeat for human consumption. Last year, the three plants slaughtered about 100,800 horses.

What do slaughter opponents advocate? Their Political Action Committee, aptly called HOOFPAC, says it all in a slogan: “Keep America’s horses in the stable and off the table.” This is a catchy phrase, but it doesn’t address whose stable, and at whose expense. Adoptive homes are not available for all unwanted horses today, and the current horse population is an estimated 9.2 million — more horses living now than in 1900, before the automobile began replacing the animals as transportation.

In the flesh-and-blood world of horse ownership, horses, whether beast of burden or beloved pet, must sometimes be put to death. The animal may be old and infirm, injured or dangerous to people. Slaughter opponents call for “humane euthanasia” by a veterinarian, at a cost of $100 to $300, which is a lot to pay for a horse that might bring as little as $300 to $500 at auction. And supporting an unwanted horse for a year can cost as much as $3,000.

Once a horse is euthanized, what then? The owner is left to dispose of a 1,200-pound carcass that has been saturated with a toxic substance. Most states require burial of euthanized animals at least two feet deep, away from water. Slaughter opponents advocate rendering — that is, boiling the animal and extracting what’s useful — but rendering is unavailable in most parts of the country and unsuitable for poisonous remains. A common solution is to pay the veterinarian to haul the carcass to the public landfill.

An Internet search for “horse disposal” brings advice on cremation — expensive where available — and grief counseling. No one addresses the reality or additional expense of disposing of a large contaminated carcass.

Existing federal animal-slaughter regulations require humane methods, so horses don’t suffer. Opponents condemn the process as cruel, but the horse is killed with a handheld machine that fires a bolt into the brain, causing instant death. Inspectors are on-site, and the plants have been designed to minimize stress on the horses.

No one likes to think about the details of death, but like it or not, all animals die. We live in a world of limited resources. American horses, prized for their size and health, convert sunshine, grass and grain into flesh and bone. When it is time for those horses to die, it makes sense that they go on to feed people and pets. Poisoning horses and then dumping them in a landfill makes no sense at all.

Sharon O’Toole is a rancher and writer in Savery, Wyoming.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at

May 01, 2007 11:24 AM

Have you ever actually seen a slaughterhouse?  You're living in la la land if you think the process is remotely humane.  Animals smell fear and blood as they approach.  The stunner/captive bolt doesn't always stun completely.  Many animals are cut apart while conscious.  Chickens are often dropped in boiling water while still conscious.  Inspectors?  You have got to be kidding.  Few and far between, fewer under the Bush admin.  Horse, cow, sheep,'s massive factory farming industry is the furthest thing from humane.

Those who profit from using public land for cattle grazing at the expense of wild horses, and those who profit from the trade in horse meat have trotted out all kinds of scary numbers to justify their business, but it behooves you to check those numbers carefully. 

May 01, 2007 03:27 PM

No matter what Anonymous above says, O'Toole's point is still right on--there are limited resources available to support large livestock and turning livestock into biohazards serves no useful purpose.

 La la land is surely where the anti-meat consuming commenter above is coming from! The feral western wild horses often have a huge negative impact on indigenous wildlife--but they sure look pretty on the nature programs on TV.

May 02, 2007 01:36 AM

Horses are livestock that the owner should be able to sell for slaughter or dispose of in a non-toxic manner. And they are feral animals that should be totally removed fom all public lands. They are very palatable and I have enjoyed meals of prime horsemeat. The Endangered Species Act needs to be upheld; but the legislation that protects feral horses and "burros" on our public lands at public expense needs to be repealed! The myth of the so-called "wild" horse is an emotional fantasy and the legend bears no resemblence to historical record. If they were truly "wild", then they could be classified as wildlife and hunted to manage the overpopulation that  isn't adopted into private ownership. Horses did not escape from the Spaniards and "recolonize" the West; they were valuable possessions of the "horse culture" developed by Native Americans and were bought and sold or stolen, not alowed to run "wild" or loose.             The Army shot most of the Indian horses in the campaign to kill off their food supply (bison) and transportation(horses and dogs) and restrict them to reservations. Horses and burros were later turned loose by failed breeders when the Army and the mines stopped buying after WWI and became feral animals in a landscape they damage.         And just as an aside, Meriwether Lewis and many of his men preferred dogs that they bought from the natives as their favorite dish and dogs are raised for meat in China today.                         One man's junk is another man' treasure and one man's meal is another's taboo; but making the U.S. horse the equivalent of the sacred cow of India is ridiculous.              Rancher Stone does seem to forget that USDA Wildlife Services has scattered poisoned meat all over the West  in the past to extirpate pedators and the results were what she predicts. Meat and grain are food and shouldn't be poisoned or burned for fuel. It's wasteful and ignorant. 

May 02, 2007 01:19 PM

Someone needs to do just a little more research before claiming horsemeat is used in dog food, it is not and has not been used in years. Also many of the horses slaughtered are STOLEN horses, how can you recover something that is dead? Many of the horses are in good health.

Her arguement borders on stupidity. The horses in the US are not and have never been raised for meat, therefore they receive many drugs that are clearly labeled Not for Human Consumption, do you want to eat wormer or Bute?

If you pay money for a horse and care for it you have to realize one day the horse will age or get sick and you take the monetary cost of humanely putting the horse down just as you would any other animal. If I were to put my horse down the vet cost and burial would not cost me 6 months of feed. As a responsible pet owner I know that dog, cat, or horse putting them down humanely is a price I have to pay for having the pet. Slaughter is a cowards way and if you put money ahead of your animals you do not deserve to have pets in the first place. Go to and watch this and tell me you want your horse to go through this process and you still support slaughter.


May 02, 2007 02:58 PM

I'm pretty sure that the cow, pig, sheep, lettuce, etc. that you eat has received plenty of treatments of chemicals labelled "not for human consumption".  The fact of the matter is that horses are a disposal nightmare.  If they can be "recycled" in Europe, GREAT!  As for the wild horse debate, as far as I'm concerned they should all be rounded up, adopted out, and the leftovers should be disposed of properly (ie., sent to Europe).  Advocating for wild horses and burros in North America is ridiculous and ignorant...They are not native, and they are terrible on the range ecosystems (yes, even worse than cattle). 

May 03, 2007 11:20 AM

It is sad that horses have to become unwanted animals....but if they do, and since we can't even get our pet population under control, at least the meat won't go to waste if it was feeding people in other places. I don't think poison in any case is a good idea. I have read about a simple medicine used in the middle east for cattle that was killing rare birds of prey. This is a difficult situation any way we look at it! Eva Seifert-Aragon

May 07, 2007 11:18 AM

It is in the Bible where it says that if you kill an animal it is as if you killed a man.  I don't think Sharon would like even the idea of a bolt being fired into her brain, so why should any other living being, just for the sake of convenience?  If you take away the freedom of another living being, then you are duty bound to provide for that living being.  If you cannot or will not provide, then you must give that living being its freedom, to live by whatever nature provides.  Convenience is not a term wisely applied to life.  If it is true that the last American horse slaughterhouse has been closed, then I am exceedingly happy.  On this account, at least, we are soon to learn the real meaning of  "civilized human being."

May 07, 2007 11:21 AM

One reason not to slaughter horses is that their transport is incredibly inhumane.  Because there are so few slaughterhouses that will take them, horses for meat consumption travel long distances and are often deprived of food or water.  Since many are older or suffering chronic conditions, transport is even more painful and terrifying.  If we're going to slaughter horses, then we can at least try to prevent their last days from being filled with pain and fear. 

May 09, 2007 12:29 PM

 I have already planned ahead,that when I die,I am to be cremated into ashes. I know that,and it does not bother me.EVERY piece of living flesh(not matter what or who it is)someday must die,and be gotten rid of in a practical manner. 

 All the horse would care about,would be,to not suffer before death.(or as little as possible.)I will be extremely lucky,if I, a human being, do not suffer inordinately before death myself. Most people do. 

  Life is painful.EVERYONE's life.Not just horses. NO ONE escapes pain,suffering,and some of we humans have crippling arthritus and chronic pain. You can say, "killing an animal is like killing a man,"but do you KNOW some of the painful,futile,and wasted lives that many humans have to bear?

If you are so gung-ho about "anthropomorphizing" horses, HOW do you treat your fellow man?Are you so sympathetic to the homeless and the poor? Do you advocate for THEM this much? 

 Convenience is ALWAYS applied to life,even human life.The huge overpopulation of pets,by irresponsible people shoud concern you more.THAT is what is cruel. 

May 25, 2007 11:15 AM

What Ms. O'Toole and about every pro-slaughter person cannot comprehend is that if you take slaughter out of the equation, the so called increase of unwanted horses will decline as there is no longer an incentive for irresponsible breeding.

BTW, Ms. O'Toole would you support that all humans upon their death become mandatory organ donors?  After all what does a person need a kidney, lung, or even eyeball when their dead?

Jul 16, 2007 11:01 AM

Overbreeding is the key element in this arguement. If thousands weren't bred then thousands couldn't be abandoned; or slaughtered. What's more humans don't own horses, they were on this planet before our species.We live in a society that has morals and ethics that is what holds communities together, treating animals with compassion and respect is part of an advanced society. 

I'm from Britain and in saying this the USA should be proud of itself in Britain we slaughter horses, you've stopped the horrific practice.
Dene Stansall 
Jul 16, 2007 11:01 AM

"Filet of filly"? I am shocked and appalled at the cruelty behind the smiling face of O'Toole. Worse, I am saddened and discouraged to think there are still so many people without mercy in their hearts toward the vulnerable innocents in our world--the animals--who feel pain just like we humans do but are defenseless against us, the ultimate predator. I can't wait for the day when humans will no longer have the choice to treat those lesser than they with such callousness and arrogance. I thought maybe we'd come farther than this by now and could see the error of our ways, but in reality, nothing much has changed. The same old worn-out arguments and rationalizations for our lack of compassion. I hope eyes will begin to see, really see, the sheer beauty of the horse we so eagerly send down the kill chute. I'm forwarding O'Toole's article to every animal advocate I know, internationally.

Jan 22, 2008 11:28 AM

I hate the peopel in the slaughter houses and wish I could stop all of it. I have seen the horror of a slaughter house that was closed 3 months earlier and it still smelled of death. I will never go to Europe or any other place that serves horsemeat.