02/15/2013 5:55PM

Jay Hovdey: Tangled world of equine slaughter

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In an admirable display of bipartisan harmony, the Agricultural and Rural Development Committee of the Oklahoma Senate voted 9-0 last Tuesday to approve a bill that would allow for the operation of equine slaughterhouses in the state. The measure was passed without questions or debate.

That’s probably for the best. The idea of horse slaughter and the human consumption of horsemeat is not very popular in certain nations of the meat-eating world, where horses have been elevated to the status of companion animals, and eating them remains a cultural taboo on the order of barbequing the household cat or snacking on bits of fried Fido.

Recent tales of horseflesh wandering into the food chains of England and Ireland have run riot in the tabloid press with headlines like “Hoof Done it?” and “Nagging Doubts.” Food safety officials in the United Kingdom have found traces of horse meat in meals served in schools, hospitals, and restaurants, prompting them to recommend that meat from anything that used to walk around should be tested.

To be clear, at the heart of the European horsemeat scandal is an issue of labeling violations more than anything else. Fingers are being pointed in all directions, from slaughterhouses in Romania to wholesalers in the Netherlands and France. The horse as a commercial food animal is widely accepted on the continent. Even in Great Britain, where horsemeat is rarely consumed, an estimated 9,000 horses are killed each year for export.

There have been no active horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. since 2006, when the last one was closed in Illinois and not reopened in the wake of the U.S. Congress defunding the USDA’s horsemeat inspection budget. That defunding was rescinded by the Obama administration in 2011, prompting slaughter proponents in places like Oklahoma to pounce.

In Tennessee, a bill was approved by an agricultural committee in March of 2012 that would have required anyone taking legal action to oppose the operation of an equine slaughter facility to post a bond worth 20 percent of that facility and to be liable for all associated court costs. The bill died without action by the full legislature, but the bill’s author, State Rep. Frank Niceley, was elected to the State Senate last November. Niceley also has proposed arming schoolteachers and has defended cockfighting in Tennessee as a “cultural tradition.”

In Missouri, attempts to get horse slaughterhouses up and running in two different communities were thwarted last year when ownership questions were raised by anti-slaughter activists. Still, there is no law in Missouri against equine slaughter.

In New Mexico earlier this month, a bill was approved in committee to fund a horse slaughter feasibility study by the New Mexico State University. When taken up by the legislature, the bill was defeated. At the same time, a slaughterhouse owner in New Mexico is suing the federal government for dragging its feet in the inspection process.

Communities in Oregon and Washington have recently said no to equine slaughter facilities proposed for their communities, and national polls run in the 80-85 percent range of Americans who oppose the consumption of horsemeat, the slaughter of horses, and transport of horses for slaughter in another country.

Even so, the backers of equine slaughter continue to be emboldened by the perpetuation of the “unwanted horse” idea that animals are being abandoned by the thousands in the face of hard economic times. They suggest that giving strapped horse owners a slaughter option that offers a few bucks to boot is both economically sound and nobly humane. They continue to insist that “we” certainly don’t eat horse meat here in the USofA, but what right do “we” have to dictate the tastes of folks in foreign lands. Especially if there is a market.

That market, however, is marginally profitable at best, which means the costs involved in the horse meat production chain are cut to the bone in terms of transport safety, slaughter, and the associated environmental clean-up. Little wonder that Great Britain’s equine slaughterhouses are willing to do the killing, but prefer the butchering to be done elsewhere – a deeply ironic twist now that horsemeat processed elsewhere has worked its way into British food.

Since September of 2011 the U.S. Congress has had on its desk HR 2966, which would amend the Horse Protection Act of 1970 “to prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption, and for other purposes.” It’s passage would go along way toward quieting the issue.

In the meantime, there will continue to be rear-guard action at the state level. The Oklahoma slaughterhouse bill was said to have slid easily out of committee because it was revised, according to The Tulsa World, to state that “…meat produced at an equine slaughterhouse would be consumed only outside the state and that animals would be allowed to come to a facility only through a livestock auction and a livestock dealer, meaning horses couldn’t be sold directly to a slaughterhouse.”

There you are. In Oklahoma slaughter backers only want to be like England, a place where an unpleasant service is offered, for a price. As characterized by their elected representatives, proud Sooners wouldn’t touch the stuff. But if given the chance they will provide.

Harlie Conn More than 1 year ago
good news we need horseslaughter back people can and sale the bad ones make the good horses sale good again old horses turn out in the hills to die is no good people need the money and people raised up eating horses meat will buy the horses people feed and hay dont come cheap its to high start the horse sales
Vicki Tobin More than 1 year ago
Harlie, I don't see anything in your comment regarding the horses being raised for food. Surely you aren't suggesting that animals that were not raised and regulated as food animals should be entering the food chain, are you? You do realize that slaughter is for food production and not a disposal service...
richard montgomery More than 1 year ago
The human race is destined for failure, the earth is gonna shake us off like a bad case of fleas....if we are lucky.
KendaW More than 1 year ago
There are currently over 100,000 horses a year being sent to Mexico alone for slaughter. This has been happening ever snce and even before slaughter was banned in US(to a lesser extent). It would make more sense and be more himane to have local slaughterhouses where these animals are not shipped to a foreign country and killed. These slaughterhouses could be last resort slaughter houses. Everyone who does not want these animals slaughtered could be lined up ready to adopt and pay for them and those that no one wanted could be humanely slaughtered and the meat sold to zoos to help fund this. Many people buy horses not knowing how expensive they are and then try to resell them and find little or no buyers. It is not just because they do not care about animals it is because they may have fallen on hard times or may have lost their pastures due to drought. Ther would have been hundreds of thousands of horses more probably starving now if they had not been sent to Mexico. If someone says that is not true...look at all the overburdened rescues that exist now. Still I think we should if it is necessary salughter them here humanely and quickly and not send them across the borders without regulation like we have here.
Suzanne Moore More than 1 year ago
If you really believe horse slaughter was more humane here than in Mexico and Canada, allow me to educate you. For 15 long years, I and my horses lived in Dallas, 30 miles from the plant in Kaufman, and 40 miles from the plant in Ft. Worth. Not only did my own horse barely escape being stolen for slaughter, four of my friends' horses WERE stolen and butchered. I SAW the slaughter plant in Kaufman. I KNOW how inhumane it was and what an environmental disaster it was for Kaufman. Not only that, even Temple Grandin admits that at the present time we have no humane way of slaughtering horses in the fast paced, assembly line structure of modern commercial slaughter plants. In Canada, they have what is supposed to be the most modern, state-of-the-art, designed by Temple Grandin horse slaughter plant in the world. Didn't help a bit. The first link is a report on that plant. From Pasture To Plate FORBES: http://www.forbes.com/sites/vickeryeckhoff/2011/12/06/horse-slaughterhouse-investigation-sounds-food-safety-and-cruelty-alarms/ Dodman Report: http://www.box.com/s/l6i1nid7ffjrktligft8 Investigation Underscored USDA Documented Cruelty: http://www.box.net/shared/mn0i4jxilbgf479oy74l Then there are all the toxic substances that are in equine products both prescription and over-the-counter. Since horses are not food animals in this country they aren't bred, raised, medicated or regulated as food animals. All the FDA requires of horse product manufacturers is that their products be safe and effective for HORSES. These substances are strictly banned in ANY food animal, for ANY reason at ANY time during their lifetime. Any use and that animal is permanently banned from entering the human food chain. The ever-present bute is especially dangerous for humans to consume - especially children. Food And Toxicology Report: http://www.box.net/shared/lqi4hhkg42 Drugs In Horse Meat: http://habitatforhorses.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/horsemeat-and-drugs/ Bute And The Passport System - Irish Veterinary Journal: http://www.box.net/shared/ln3qh88kz42avo4ys1oa Anyway, didn't you READ the article before going into your song and dance? "backers of equine slaughter continue to be emboldened by the perpetuation of the “unwanted horse” idea that animals are being abandoned by the thousands in the face of hard economic times." This myth has been spread all over by Sue Wallis and Dave Duquette for YEARS. Then they both say - in print - that in the plants THEY plan to build they won't accept such things as "unwanted" horses. They will accept only "the best." They even talk of breeding horses for slaughter. Now, where does that leave these millions of "unwanted" horses panhandling on every street corner? GET REAL!
KendaW More than 1 year ago
I think you misunderstood my message. Slaughter is happening now even as I type. Horses are being shipped across the border and we are not there to see or monitor how their life is being ended. If there were local slaughter houses these would be monitored and made as humane as possible (I am not speaking of the historical ones that you have knowledge of) . I am not advocating for an increase in slaughter what I am advocating is a way to humanely as possible end the life of horses who may be suffering or there is no one who wants to feed them or can feed them. These slaughter houses could be ones of last resort where people such as yourself and other willing and able buyers could purchase them after a veterianarian examines them to prevent them from going to slaughter. if there are not enough rescues or people willing and financially able to care for them for the rest of their lives what other options are there at this point? Slaughter should be legal and not criminal. However they should be as humane as possible.
james More than 1 year ago
Let's not act like horse meat has never been consumed in this country. "At the close of World War II, when beef was in short supply, many Americans got their protein boosts from horse meat. Republicans blamed the meat scarcity on President Truman, giving him the nickname “Horsemeat Harry.” During the early 1970s, beef prices went through the roof, forcing cash-strapped shoppers to buy cheap horse meat instead. The custom was so common it showed up as a subplot on a 1973 episode of the sitcom “All in the Family.” Harvard University’s Faculty Club reportedly served horse meat for more than 100 years before it dropped the menu item in the 1980s." 2. I question those numbers of 80% of people in the US are opposed to horse slaughter. Only 2% of Americans even own horses. We may not want to eat them, but i doubt most people care much about them being slaughtered. Look at this study done by American Horse Publications. http://www.horsechannel.com/horse-news/2010/04/29/ahp-survey-results.aspx "Given all the recent press given to the plight of homeless horses, it is not surprising that more than 60% of respondents selected "Unwanted horses and what to do with them" as one of the three most important issues facing the equine industry. The cost of horsekeeping came in second at 44.4% and loss of equestrian land was third at 35.3%. When asked what issues should be addressed first, nearly a third of respondents selected the unwanted horse issue. The second most common response was, "Not having the option of slaughter" with 17%. The youngest group of respondents, those ages 18-24, are most likely to view both horses going to slaughter and horse owners not having the option of slaughter as a primary concern. The lack of equine slaughter is less likely to be a concern for respondents with a household income of more than $125,000. Loss of equestrian lands is a bigger concern in the west than in the east. Respondents were given the option to propose a solution to the issue they view as most pressing. Nearly three-quarters of respondents did offer a solution, and the first 3,752 responses were analyzed. 22.1% of those offering solutions believe that slaughtering horses should be an option. Just over 10% propose breeding regulations or restrictions. Improved education for breeders and horse caretakers was proposed by 9.7% of respondents who offered suggestions."
Suzanne Moore More than 1 year ago
The study you question was made by one of the most prestigious and trusted pollsters in the country, Lake Research Associates. Look them up. You only question because you are pro-slaughter come hell or high water. You don't have to own a horse to be against their slaughter. Sue Wallis doesn't and never has owned a horse, and yet she presumes to speak for the entire horse industry as a PRO-slaughter advocate. Well, you can be an anti and not own horses too. Besides, horse owners were deliberately included as part of the detailed demographics this study was based on. In the breakdown, 72% of horse owners were dead set against horse slaughter as well - including me. Did you know this "survey" was overseen by Wallis? Take the one about the "loss of slaughter option" which NEVER HAPPENED. "Unwanted horses" ALL those reports WERE INVESTIGATED and found to be either a mistake or outfight fraud. Get off it. Do you know who is really abandoning thousands of horses? Check it out: Abandoned Horses Final: http://www.box.com/s/sn881xn6m3ukb5t3ks4k I don't plan to address any more of that so called survey, It definitely was NOT designed by one of the most prestigious and trusted pollsters in the country! If anyone is interested in actually helping horses, start here: White Paper - Eliminating Horse Slaughter: https://www.box.com/s/67a22403323dd820a2cc Help For Horse Owners: https://www.box.com/s/27babf26b88b21f042da
Patricia Doyle More than 1 year ago
Frankly, I stopped eating meat a long time ago when the mad cow disease hit the news. I am a lot healthier now and even lowered my blood pressure. No more BP pills. Who knows what is in the meat we buy these days. Shades of Soylent Green. Who knows, could be Soylent Green some day. Yuk
Christine Nunn More than 1 year ago
What are people thinking. Oklahoma is known for their horses and passing a law for human consumption of hores is outrageous. God put other animals such as cows, pigs, chickens on earth for those reasons not horses. Never heard of Indians in our history books killing and eating a horse. They took care of them. Just another reason voters need to take a better look at there polictians.
james More than 1 year ago
lol. amazing logic!
Clyde Veltmann More than 1 year ago
I hate to tell you. I know lots of native Americans and their ancestors were all big horse and mule eaters.
Judith Hamilton-Schultze More than 1 year ago
What are thinking? Are you nuts Oklahoma? We will not stand for your state keeping the slaughter pipeline going. NEVER, READ MY WORDS, NEVER. Our horses do not belong in this horror and bloody mess that has been created for years. Europe has been involved with corruption in the horse industry for years. So they think nothing of eating tainted meat. Stop believing in this painful, retching death that slaughter puts our horses through. All animals suffer, but horses are not for eating you fools. I would like for all of you horse eating morons to go and visit a slaughter plant, then tell me you will continue to eat horses. I don't think you will ever. You will become a vegetarian after that experience. The pain and anguish these horses go through will live in your memory forever and you will just ball in tears. Never, never, never. Stop horse slaughter now, stop horse transport, stop BLM round ups now. Done finished with you fools.
TerryW More than 1 year ago
Any state in the US that thinks US horses can be regulated for food safety is either living in a state of ignorance or denial. There is no regulation of horses as food-producing animals in the US, therefore the slaughter of horses for human consumption is illegal. US horse meat could never pass US inspection (drug residues) for human consumption within the US, and our own FDA export regs designate it as adulterated because it is not in compliance with the importing country's laws and requirements (aka EU). This is the only US animal that is slaughtered for foreign human consumption that I know of that breaks federal and international food safety & export laws, and our government completely ignores it, no enforcement, no compliance, wearing blinders. Well the EU may be slow to catch on, but they're getting there. EU law forbids any horse that's ever been given bute "in its lifetime" to enter the human food supply. You won't find many horses in the US that have not been given bute as needed throughout their lifetimes. And with the extensive horse meat scandal currently taking place in Europe, testing for contaminants is expanding, wait until they hit a batch of meat that originated from US horses via Canada and Mexico exports. http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/chemicalsafety/residues/index_en.htm Obligations: EU countries must implement residue monitoring plans for the illegal use of substances, misuse of authorised veterinary medicines, and minimise residue recurrence. Non-EU countries exporting to the EU must guarantee an equivalent level of food safety and implement a residue monitoring plan. 5.1 Horses: import into the EU and residue requirements - http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/chemicalsafety/residues/docs/requirements_non_eu.pdf
gonzo More than 1 year ago
leave it to oklahoma politics. greedy, corrupt and ignorant polititions. we can only hope the citizens vote them out.
Patricia Doyle More than 1 year ago
The problem is we vote the greedy bums out but a new group of lying slime balls seem to get in. We see this in federal politics as well. Seems like the best liars get in.
Maggie Smith More than 1 year ago
Wake up people!! More than 80% of Americans are against the slaughter of horses. Every medication I give my horses clearly states "Not for use in horses intended for human consumption". That is a WARNING!! Humans should not consume those drugs. Horses cannot be slaughtered humanely. Now, I like my beef, chicken, sea food but don't try to shove horse down my throat or there will be a fight.