Will the nation accept horse slaughter?

Opinion on the recent opening of two slaughterhouses: why horsemeat isn't such a radical idea.

 

A judge in Denver may have finally ended the national ban on horse slaughter for good -- or for bad -- depending on your perspective.

On Dec. 13, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals lifted an emergency injunction that had blocked two slaughterhouses, Valley Meat Co., in Roswell, N.M., and Rains Natural Meat in Gallatin, Mo., from killing horses for money. The lifting of the injunction, which was brought by a coalition of animal welfare groups, opens the door to legal horse slaughter within weeks.

For the time being, the horsemeat would be exported. Domestic sale of horsemeat is not illegal, but Congress doesn't currently allocate funds to regulate it for human consumption, something Valley Meat owner Tim Sappington hopes will change. Sappington told Bloomberg News that he eats horsemeat three times a week, chicken-fried horse steak being his favorite dish.

The opening of these slaughterhouses and the outcry it has provoked highlights the complex relationship Americans have with horses. Many people consider horses as friends, and the thought of killing them is deeply disturbing. But the problem remains: What do we do with the unwanted animals? Especially since there are so many of them.

horses.jpg
Wild horses rounded up from Bureau of Land Management land in Utah. Jim Urquhart/Reuters.

The racehorse industry produces a regular supply of spent thoroughbreds and quarter horses. Farmers and ranchers have to dispose of old workhorses, as do horse-drawn carriage operators in big cities. Selling spent horses rather than paying to keep them alive is a logical choice from an economic perspective. That’s what’s been happening, in fact: Since Congress stopped funding activities related to horse slaughter seven years ago, unwanted horses have been auctioned off to meat buyers and quietly shipped to Mexico and Canada for slaughter. Last year, nearly 200,000 animals were shipped across our borders, in a journey that was difficult for the horses and often brutal.

But because the flesh of retired horses can contain vaccines, antibiotics, steroids, painkillers and other medicines unapproved for use in food animals, the European Union is planning to be more selective about the horsemeat it allows to be imported for sale within its borders. Japan and Russia are on the same track.

Meanwhile, a burgeoning population of mustangs roams the arid West, causing ecological and economic damage. While often called "wild," these free-roaming horses (and burros) are more accurately described as “feral” – the descendants of animals brought over by Europeans. Now, the Bureau of Land Management spends $75 million annually to manage mustangs that live on federal land. This budget includes $43 million dedicated to "holding costs" for the approximately 40,000 "excess horses" that have been removed from their range and currently reside on five long-term pasture facilities in Kansas and Oklahoma. The animals deemed most adoptable, meanwhile, are held in one of 54 facilities, all of which are currently at capacity, says the BLM.

Logically, it is these free-roaming horses that should be slaughtered. Given the changing food preferences of today’s world's purchasers, market prospects for clean meat from free-range horses are good. Yet so long as the American relationship with horses remains conflicted -- and a powerful horse-loving lobby holds the stronger hand -- sensible horse management policy may not be in the cards.

Until Congress decides otherwise, millions of taxpayer dollars will be spent each year to manage and protect an invasive species that also happens to be a great source of lean protein, has legitimate market value, and is delicious. I've tried it myself: enjoying it stir-fried in China, where it tastes like a sweet cross between beef and pork, and even eating canned horsemeat in Mongolia, which was better than Spam -- perhaps not the highest praise.

If any horses should be adopted, it’s the spent work- and racehorses that have given their better years to human service. Already trained, these horses are used to people, and because their edibility is questionable, they are the ones that should be adopted by horse lovers.

Lynn Montgomery lives in Placitas, N.M., a community surrounded by open space that’s home to several herds of wild horses. Many people there treat the animals like outdoor pets, even providing them food and water. It's common in Placitas to have cars stopped in the middle of the road, while folks ogle a herd.

"I love the horses," Montgomery told me. "But in the drought we're in, the horses are just devastating. They make trails, which turn into arroyos, which funnel the rain and carve away the land. And when those rare but ferocious drought rains come, it's a total mess.

"When I was growing up in the 1940s, the stores carried Hill's Horsemeat," Montgomery recalls. "The label said, 'For Pet Food Only,' but it had a USDA stamp, so people took it home and ate it. My mom made a wonderful salad, like tuna fish salad with mayonnaise and onions, and we made sandwiches.”

Horsemeat for sale at the supermarket. Is that really such a radical idea?

Ari LeVaux is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. He writes about food and food politics in Arizona.

Charles Fox
Charles Fox Subscriber
Dec 27, 2013 10:03 AM
A lot of people propose horse slaughter as some sort of "economically sensible" solution to horse overpopulation. Some states are burdened by an overpopulation of dogs and cats, but even in New Mexico there's no real push to slaughter dogs and cats for meat. Bu why not? It makes economic sense!

Every animal - horses included - deserves better than a final terror walk down the killing chute of some fetid abattoir.

Meatless diets are clearly healthier for people and are far more benign ecologically. How about not stuffing our bloated American abdomens with more meat? Why not go vegetarian? Is that really such a radical idea?
Linda VanFossan
Linda VanFossan Subscriber
Dec 27, 2013 01:08 PM
 No way will meat contaminated with "bute" and dewormer meds be approved for human consumption, and every domesticated horse in this country has bute and/or dewormer in it. However, the wild horses still roaming free in the west don't have these contaminants, and they are the ones that will be sold as meat for humans. This is the BLM solution to the so-called "problem", and also a sop to the politically powerful ranching coalition. How many starving wild horses have you seen in photos or on news casts? Very few, I wager.
Tom Darnell
Tom Darnell Subscriber
Dec 28, 2013 07:35 PM
Don't forget the negative impacts that too many horses have on sensitive native range lands. Reducing the herds to sustainable levels is a must. Horses are an introduced species and have only been here for 300 years or so.
Wendy Hagen
Wendy Hagen
Dec 30, 2013 10:09 AM
The wild horses habe been here for many, many years. They carried our pioneers across the plains, they delivered our mail, they plowed our fields and then took them to church on Sunday! In other words they carried the history of this country on their backs....do they deserve to put to death by the barbarians at the slaughter house? A plug in the head if they stand still? If they dont then plugged until the deed is done? NO...........and the BLM has created it's own nightmare!!!! If they left them alone ( instead of succombing to the cattlemen and energy companies) they would regulate themselves as to not populate themselves out forage. Certainly they deserve better that the slaughter house. The first horse, eohippus, was found HERE in North America. Now what does that speak to?????? Hmmmmmmmmmm.....and what about the kind of people who work at these factories of horror? Have any of you read Paula Bacons' account of slaughter in Kaufman , Texas? Blood coming up in sinks and bathtubs....crime increasing, corpses rotting in the sun and stinking up the town? Google her account and read it! Please save the horses, remember there are too many of us also....!!!! 80% of Americans are AGAINST slaughter! In case you didn't know it, I am too!
Wendy Hagen
Wendy Hagen
Dec 30, 2013 10:09 AM
The wild horses habe been here for many, many years. They carried our pioneers across the plains, they delivered our mail, they plowed our fields and then took them to church on Sunday! In other words they carried the history of this country on their backs....do they deserve to put to death by the barbarians at the slaughter house? A plug in the head if they stand still? If they dont then plugged until the deed is done? NO...........and the BLM has created it's own nightmare!!!! If they left them alone ( instead of succombing to the cattlemen and energy companies) they would regulate themselves as to not populate themselves out forage. Certainly they deserve better that the slaughter house. The first horse, eohippus, was found HERE in North America. Now what does that speak to?????? Hmmmmmmmmmm.....and what about the kind of people who work at these factories of horror? Have any of you read Paula Bacons' account of slaughter in Kaufman , Texas? Blood coming up in sinks and bathtubs....crime increasing, corpses rotting in the sun and stinking up the town? Google her account and read it! Please save the horses, remember there are too many of us also....!!!! 80% of Americans are AGAINST slaughter! In case you didn't know it, I am too!
Marybeth Devlin
Marybeth Devlin
Jan 01, 2014 12:38 AM

There is a scarcity of wild horses on the range. Seventy (70) percent of herd populations are below the minimum level necessary for genetic viability.

BLM uses different methodologies for counting cattle versus wild horses. A cow and her calf -- the pair -- are treated as a single unit; while a mare and her foal are inventoried as two adult horses. Further, BLM counts unborn foals -- those still in the womb -- as if they were already adult members of the current herd. On the other hand, when foals die, their deaths are not tallied -- BLM's wild-horse population data ignores foal fatalities. Dead foals count as if they too were living adult horses. Here are the wild-horse stats:

Acres of public lands on which BLM currently allows wild horses:
  32,000,000

Maximum number of wild horses that BLM permits on the range:
      26,600

Acres per wild horse or foal ... or unborn foal ... or dead foal:
       1,200

Although wild horses are supposed to enjoy principal use of their designated habitats, within those very areas BLM awards cattle ranchers ten times more grazing slots than it does the wild horses.

Here are the overall commercial livestock stats:

Acres of public lands on which BLM allows cattle:
157,000,000

Cow-plus-calf pairs that BLM permits to graze:
  1,033,333

Acres per cow-plus-calf pair:
        150

Acres per cow or calf:
         75

Note the vast discrepancy in acres per animal. BLM would have us believe that each wild horse -- born, unborn, or undead -- requires nearly two square miles of land. That is 16 times more land than BLM allots per cow, even though both species have been determined to consume comparable amounts of forage.

When the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act became law, there was nearly twice as much land designated for the horses than there is now. Over the years, BLM has wrongfully taken away millions of acres of wild-horse habitat:

Acres of public land originally set aside for wild horses:
 54,000,000

Acres of land that BLM has taken away from the wild horses:
 22,000,000

Wild horses now held in captivity:
     50,000

Acres per wild horse if set free on that land:
        440

But even without restoring those millions of acres, there is abundant room for all wild horses to live in freedom. Population density would still be sparse -- five times less than for commercial livestock.

Acres of public lands on which BLM currently allows wild horses:
  32,000,000

Wild-horse population if the 50,000 captives were set free:
      76,600

Acres per wild horse:
         418

Horses are true companion animals, but wild horses are more than that. They are an American native species, living history, esthetically beautiful creatures that must be conserved.

It is cost-effective to do right by them, to set them free:

Cost to keep 50,000 wild horses in captivity:
$
$43,000,000

Cost to let them live free on the range:
$ 0

Population control? Should be courtesy of apex predators -- mountain lions, wolves, bears, and coyotes.

Cost per population-control predator:
$ 0
Jim Notestine
Jim Notestine Subscriber
Jan 01, 2014 08:04 AM
Horses are a herbivore just like cattle. Any argument against eating horse meat is strictly an emotional attachment to horses as pets. I was raised on a farm in Ohio and whenever a horse broke a leg or got too old to use it was butchered. Since they were large usually neibors shared in the butchering costs and the meat was shared. The meat is very tasty and much lower in cholesterol. It is insane to waste meat because of some emotional people weeping and wailing. At the same time taxpayer are paying $$$ to keep them inhumanely penned up. There is some validity in the ranchers want to get rid of them argument so they can raise more cattle. I say eat the horses and don't put more cattle or horses on the land. Another thing to note is that horses eat differently than cattle and are more destructive to native grasses.
 
Peggy Sanders
Peggy Sanders
Jan 07, 2014 04:43 PM
Marybeth Devlin
Jan 01, 2014 12:38 AM BLM uses different methodologies for counting cattle versus wild horses. A cow and her calf -- the pair -- are treated as a single unit; while a mare and her foal are inventoried as two adult horses. Then you wrote: Acres per cow-plus-calf pair: 150
Acres per cow or calf: 75
        
We have had slick (unbranded) horses abandoned in local pasture because individuals could no longer care for them. If they could sell them at slaughter at least they could recoup some of their costs.

My overriding question is why isn't anyone upset at the fact that Indians eat puppies?

You contradicted yourself:
Mary McCracken
Mary McCracken Subscriber
Jan 07, 2014 05:00 PM
As a long time horse owner I know the expense and labor involved in keeping a healthy well fed horse. For those not fortunate enough to have a caring home I believe there should be legal slaughter and horse meat sold. I'm guessing that whatever goes into horses it is not as bad as what we eat regularly from our commercial cattle system. Those animals are given growth hormones and antibiotics to PREVENT sickness. That all accumulates in the meat that most Americans eat without question. If I weren't raising my own meat I'd be a vegetarian or buy grass fed animals only.
Margaret Robertson
Margaret Robertson
Jan 07, 2014 08:26 PM
I love horses, had a couple that were a joy. I've also had cattle. Anyone who's raised stock knows horses are far harder on land than cows. It's also known public lands are overrun by feral horses, NOT native "wild" ones. They were imported by Spanish, for various reasons got loose. Ditto burros, by the way.
The prehistoric argument is a total fraud; eohippus died off many millennia before human settlement, has zero relevance to present.
The vegetarians, and all-emotional city folk are basically ignorant, with a different agenda anyway, being to stop people from eating any meat. So that's also irrelevant in this subject. Humans evolved as omnivores, meat being a huge part of diets, for perhaps 100's of thousands of years, as science/archaeo proves.
Yes, starving horses have been documented, for over-running habitat. That's why BLM removes some. Just because that writer has seen no reports only underlines how making judgments minus knowledge creates falsehoods.(Starving deer are awful too, been there, seen that, so piteous.)
The comparison with pet dogs and cats is a ridiculous phony, intended only to evoke equal emotion. Euthanizing a cat or dog, one's companion, is gut-wrenching; I had to let my beloved Border Collie go to end his suffering, cried for days, but knew it was best for him, not me. Wild horses are not comparable, being Not Pets. They are an invasive, recently-introduced species, which destroy land, being very fertile. And: anti-fertility drugs are proved ineffective. Those are facts.
If wild horse advocates were knowledgeable and truthful, they would admit that for thousands of years horses were normally hunted as food, only relatively recently tamed. Don't believe it? Check out the many archaeo and other reports.
So what's a humane end? It's not the sappy "going down the aisle last time" attitude expressed. It's instant and humane. Native Americans thanked the animal, as we should, even at factory facilities, but that doesn't change the fact that too many horses exist, not only on public lands. There would be no problem if city-suburban people adopted them all, but they cannot afford to. That's why so many tame ones have been abandoned all over USA.
Where I live in way S Central CO there may be a feral herd with original Spanish bloodlines; people here are trying to save them, a good effort that I hope gets proved and works.
Meanwhile, many parts of the Great American West--that "wild" horse advocates have never seen close up, and never will, being guided by emotion only--are being decimated, habitat-wise, by feral horses, who reproduce a lot. BLM has in fact done well, while hamstrung by fervent, loud, ideological, Wild Horse Annie types who know nothing about actual land capabilities. And that has nothing to do with cattle, by the way, nor grazing permits.
Sooo, should excess be eaten, if not in USA, in other countries which value the protein and flavor? Yes.
So, having lived with both horses and cattle, I agree with Mr. Darness, Notestine and Ms. Sanders.
Knee-jerk, romanticized, pretend-morally-upright, Save All the Horses beliefs ignore reality, responsible land management, and what's better for feral horses. Such persons are driven by emotion and not facts and consequences.
I've never eaten horsemeat, but years ago saw London signs for buying it. It seems only in USA that's not normal for excess animals. I suggest excess feral horses should be able to provide good protein to others, while making our public lands more sustainable for many other species, now endangered by horses, also well-documented. For centuries, people bred and re-bred horses for various uses, after taming them long before; feral--not "wild--ones can still be good food, if not here, then where emotion rules less stridently.
I can only hope ideological horse lovers will take these comments to heart, and address reality instead of romance. Likely won't, but this is the real world many others live in.
 
 
Carl Roberts
Carl Roberts Subscriber
Jan 08, 2014 11:51 AM
How pleasant to see such thoughtful dialogue on this subject (this time around). I don't think that there will ever be a discussion on this subject without some emotional input from those who do not have the smell of horsesweat and horseshit permanently imprinted to their olfactory process. Just loving an animal does not make one an expert in its care.If we were to get past a few issues, I believe we could make more rational decisions regarding horse usage. The feral vs. wild is one of those issues. I think the facts are in on that one. Vegan vs. carnivore is one a bit harder to reconcile.For the time being I am in the omnivore camp as I imagine most others are. The BLM preferance for cattle and extractive industies over horses will continue to be debated as i suppose it should.
   From a moral perspective, I simply cannot understand anyone trying to take the high ground as long as human hunger exists and horse overpopulation creates problems.Wasting a viable protein source will never be a green solution to this problem. Having eaten horse for a two year period in the early 70s in Catron county N.M. I would assure anyone that it can be prepared to be both tasty and life sustaining.
    Having retired from over 30 yrs. of service to these nobel creatures probably plants me squarely in the camp of the horse lovers, but from a completely different background. My hopes are that there will always be room for us to allow free roaming horses as long as they do not destroy habitat for indigenous species. The opening of more processing facilities can and should eliminate much of the suffering created by the long ride to the border.