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The USDA might approve a horse slaughtering plant in New Mexico
More than a year ago Congress quietly lifted a ban on horse meat inspection, causing speculation that horse slaughterhouses could be up and running in a month. The turnaround hasn't happened quite that quickly, but recent news shows that two slaughterhouses might be up and running in the next two months.
The New York Times reports that a horse slaughtering plant in New Mexico is set to open within the next few months, as the USDA is expected to approve inspection. In fact, a spokesman for the USDA said that "several" companies have asked for inspection of horses for slaughter. Horsemeat must be inspected by the USDA before being approved for human consumption.
Of course, all of this is happening while the horsemeat scandal slowly unfolds in Europe, where traces of equine DNA has been found in everything from Burger King burgers to Ikea meatballs.
In a recent AP article, Mary Clare Jalonick assures readers that "there just isn't enough horse meat in the U.S. for it to make sense for meatpackers to illegally mix it in, and U.S. meat inspections in plants and checks at the border would most likely catch any large-scale scams." Considering, however, that Oklahoma is set to be the first state to lift its ban on horse slaughter, and this news of an operational New Mexico slaughterhouse, perhaps we should be worried?
Advocates for this horsemeat movement, however, note that horsemeat isn't necessarily unsafe and is a slightly healthier alternative to beef. Back in 2011, even PETA somewhat supported the lift of the horsemeat inspection ban, noting that horses sent to Mexico or Canada to be slaughtered oftentimes suffered more. Even so, some of the biggest issues with the horsemeat scandal in the EU centers on the possible intrusion of horse drugs into the food system. How America will deal with potential horsemeat products has yet to be seen.
Horses go from racetracks to slaughterhouses: 'It's just a job to me'
Sonja Meadows, an animal rights activist, formed Animals' Angels to investigate the horse slaughter for human consumption industry. USA TODAY
FORNEY, Texas &mdash Mike McBarron stepped out of the 96-degree heat and into a shed on his feedlot after loading 37 horses onto a truck. They were headed to Mexico, where they would be slaughtered and shipped around the world for human consumption.
&ldquoIt&rsquos just a job to me,&rdquo McBarron told USA TODAY Sports. &ldquoI mean, I don&rsquot attach myself to them. I don&rsquot fall in love with them.&rdquo
McBarron, 48, is one of the country&rsquos most prolific &ldquokill buyers,&rdquo people who buy horses and sell them to slaughterhouses. They also represent an uncomfortable reality for the horse racing industry.
Over the past decade, an average of more than 600 thoroughbreds a year have died because of racing, according to research by the USA TODAY Network. By contrast, an estimated 7,500 thoroughbreds a year are slaughtered for human consumption, according to Alex Waldrop, president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA).
A horse is shown in Mike McBarron's trailer in Cleburne, Texas in August. (Photo: Michael Mulvey, USA TODAY Sports)
From the racetrack to a dinner plate, it has been said of thoroughbreds that are slaughtered and end up in restaurants and markets throughout Asia and Europe in countries such as China, Japan, Germany and Russia.
&ldquoThe problem is that the entire industry is a conveyor belt for slaughter,&rsquo&rsquo said John Holland, president of the Equine Welfare Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the slaughter of American horses. &ldquoThey just keep cranking them (out).&rsquo&rsquo
McBarron, who acknowledged he has bought and sold retired racehorses for slaughter, has sent tens of thousands of horses to slaughter plants and generated millions of dollars in revenue, according to invoices cited in an informal investigation conducted by a nonprofit group called Animals&rsquo Angels. That practice is unlikely to be a popular topic this week at the Breeders&rsquo Cup, which has attracted many of the sport&rsquos top horses and intense scrutiny of the sport.
Santa Anita Park, the Southern California racetrack that on Friday and Saturday will host the annual event, is dealing with the backlash from a string of race-related horse deaths &mdash 36 since December. The Los Angeles district attorney&rsquos office has launched an investigation and, as protesters decry the horse deaths at Santa Anita and elsewhere, PETA has called on states to suspend racing &ldquountil real answers are supplied about these deaths and the carnage is ended.&rdquo
Meanwhile, without public outcry, American-born thoroughbreds are trucked across the border for slaughter. So far this year, accounting for all breeds, more than 57,000 horses have been shipped for slaughter to Mexico and Canada from the United States, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data.
McBarron, who said he&rsquos been in the business of shipping horses to slaughter for 30 years, suggests it&rsquos a public service because he said the horses would otherwise be abandoned.
Mike McBarron looks at horses while attending an auction in August. (Photo: Josh Peter, USA TODAY Sports)
&ldquoBaby, you want to talk about an apocalypse now,&rdquo McBarron said, invoking images of cars colliding with horses. &ldquoIt ain&rsquot like hitting a dog. You hit a horse, it&rsquos maybe 1,300 pounds. It&rsquos like hitting a brick wall.
&ldquoThe animal lovers, they don&rsquot understand stuff like that.&rdquo
Most of the thoroughbreds shipped for slaughter are little known, but not all of them.
Ferdinand, winner of the 1986 Kentucky Derby, likely died in a slaughterhouse, according to a 2003 report published by The Blood-Horse, a weekly news magazine focusing on the thoroughbred industry.
The Blood-Horse reported that Ferdinand, born in Kentucky and later sold to a Japanese breeding farm, likely died in a Japanese slaughterhouse in 2002 and probably became steak or pet food.
Outrage reached Capitol Hill.
In 2006, by a vote of 263-146, the House of Representatives passed legislation to not only ban horse slaughter in the U.S. but also ban the transport and export of American horses for slaughter. The bill died in the Senate.
Similar efforts since then have fizzled despite bipartisan support from prominent lawmakers with Vice President Mike Pence voting in favor of horse slaughter prohibition in 2006, when he was an Indiana congressman, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doing the same. Nine times legislation to ban horse slaughter has been introduced in Congress, and eight times it has failed to be enacted into law.
John Sweeney, the former Republican congressman from New York who sponsored the House 2006 bill, said he got a firsthand look at the horse slaughter business while traveling with animal rights activists, and he characterized kill buyers as &ldquolike the dregs of society.&rsquo&rsquo
&ldquoIf the vast majority of people got a look at it, what they were doing, they would be put out of business in a New York minute,&rsquo&rsquo Sweeney said. &ldquoPeople would be revolted by it and the rats would all run for the hills.&rsquo&rsquo
Sweeney said the &ldquoagricultural establishment,&rdquo including the cattle lobby, has blocked the legislation. (Farmers have said they worry a ban on the slaughter of horses could lead to a ban on the slaughter of other livestock &mdash a so-called &ldquoslippery slope.&rdquo Ranchers have said slaughter is an important way to protect their land from being overrun by wild horses.)
&ldquoIt shouldn&rsquot have been controversial (legislation), but you had all of these sort of powerful interests tied to campaign contributions,&rsquo&rsquo said Sweeney, who served four terms in Congress.
Yet Sweeney and his allies scored a victory.
In 2006, Congress passed a budget that barred the USDA from using taxpayer funds for inspection at horse slaughter plants, effectively creating a temporary ban on horse slaughter that Congress has renewed with each subsequent federal budget. At about the same time, state law in Texas and Illinois also were used to shut down the last three U.S.-based horse slaughter plants.
While McBarron and the other kill buyers adapted by exporting horses to Mexico and Canada, they also have found new customers &mdash some of the same people who decry horse slaughter, in fact.
Purchasing horses at auctions and private sales, McBarron and other kill buyers post photos of the horses on Facebook and other social media websites and offer potential buyers a chance to save them. The kill buyers can sell the horses to slaughter plants for about 60 cents a pound, according to McBarron, but first try to find online buyers.
&ldquoDon&rsquot nobody buy them, then we ship them to slaughter,&rsquo&rsquo said McBarron, who also has shipped donkeys and mules for slaughter. &ldquoWe&rsquore not going to keep them around just to look at them. I mean, we&rsquore in this for a business.&rdquo
Then there is another business &mdash exposing kill buyers.
Sonja Meadows says she often goes undercover when doing looking into potential animal cruelty. (Photo: Michael Mulvey, USA TODAY TODAY Sports)
That August day when McBarron loaded up the 37 horses, Sonja Meadows, an animal rights activist for Animals&rsquo Angels, was secretly taking video of activity at McBarron&rsquos feedlot. Yet again.
Her informal investigation of McBarron began six years ago.
In 2016, Meadows published a report on the Animals&rsquo Angels website that claimed, &ldquoMike McBarron runs a multi-million dollar operation while violating animal protection laws and regulations as well as environmental laws on a regular basis.&rdquo
Meadows, who obtained documents and did surveillance of McBarron, alleged that horses at McBarron&rsquos feedlot die without assistance, carry infectious diseases such as strangles or equine influenza and fail to get veterinary care for infected wounds and other medical problems.
McBarron denied the allegations.
&ldquoDo I have horses die at my facility? Sometimes I do, yes,&rsquo&rsquo McBarron said. &ldquoHorses are like people. They die. But they ain&rsquot dying because I&rsquom mistreating them or starving them or letting them go without veterinary care.&rsquo&rsquo
Once Meadows&rsquo report was complete, she said, she forwarded it to the USDA, Texas Office of the Attorney General, Texas Department of Environmental Quality and the sheriff&rsquos office in Kaufman County, where McBarron lives. To date, according to Meadows, the only information available about action taken in response to her allegations of McBarron is he received a warning from the Department of Environmental Quality for burying horses on an adjacent property.
Meadows&rsquo allegations fall outside the scope of the USDA authority, said Joelle Hayden, a public affairs specialist for USDA&rsquos investigative arm who added that animal cruelty cases are handled by state law enforcement.
The three other agencies Meadows said she contacted about McBarron&rsquos alleged violations did not respond to USA TODAY Sports&rsquo requests for information about whether they followed up on her complaints.
After Meadows published her allegations, McBarron built a fence about 10 feet high that he said was an attempt to restrict the view of his property from animal rights activists.
But that hasn&rsquot stopped Meadows.
As McBarron worked at his feedlot, Meadows prepared to climb a tree on a neighboring property.
&ldquoWatch for the snakes once we get to the underbrush,&rsquo&rsquo she said.
Her forearms were scraped. Her left shoulder was bruised. Two days earlier, Meadows explained, she climbed a tree while trying to secretly shoot video at the property of another kill buyer. A tree limb broke and she fell 6 feet, said Meadows, 46.
&ldquoThis line of work isn&rsquot without risks,&rdquo she said, adding that while conducting her investigations, she and her husband, Keith, have had guns pointed at them, been chased by hornets and pit bulls, and fallen into a river and from trees.
When attending public auctions, Meadows said, sometimes she wears a wig to mask her identity and records video with a hidden camera. The day she recorded at McBarron&rsquos property, she outfitted herself in camouflage gear &mdash hat, jacket and gloves.
With her husband cupping his hands and providing a lift, Meadows clambered up the tree and settled between two limbs. Then she pulled out her camera and surveyed the property for signs of animal cruelty &mdash something that might otherwise be handled by enforcement agencies.
&lsquoNever forget that sound&rsquo
The USDA remains responsible for enforcing laws regarding the transport of horses for slaughter in Mexico and Canada. Those laws, spelled out in the Commercial Transportation of Equines for Slaughter Act (CTESA), are designed to protect the health and welfare of the horses. But the USDA has been forced to rein in the oversight, said Joelle Hayden, a public affairs specialist for USDA&rsquos investigative arm.
&ldquoDue to current Congressional funding restrictions, USDA is prohibited from inspecting horses covered under the CTESA,&rsquo&rsquo Hayden said by email. &ldquoThese restrictions have been in place for the past few years. If we receive evidence of CTESA noncompliance, we look into the matter and take enforcement action as warranted.&rdquo
Sweeney said the USDA never wanted to enforce regulations and he dismissed the notion that funding restrictions has anything to do with it.
&ldquoThey always came up with that excuse,&rsquo&rsquo he said.
That&rsquos where activists such as Meadows come in.
Born and raised in Germany, Meadows said, &ldquoI remember as soon as I could walk I would bring home injured birds and dogs, driving my mother crazy.&rsquo&rsquo
Meadows said she was working as an attorney in the automotive industry in 2005 when she took a road trip in Texas that changed her life. Driving through the night, she stopped at a gas station.
&ldquoI heard the cashier say, &lsquoOh, here they are again. Poor horses. They&rsquore all going to be steak soon.&rsquo &rdquo Meadows said. &ldquoThere was a big rig, a big transport truck, that had about 40 horses on it.
&ldquoI will never forget that sound. I&rsquove heard it so many times now, but that first time still sticks in my mind. How their hooves kicked the aluminum sides of the trailer with such force.
&ldquoI looked into the trailer and they were standing in there, crammed like sardines, with their heads down. And the next thing that always stuck with me was how angry the driver was. He came at me and he said, &lsquoWhat are you looking at?&rsquo &rdquo
When she returned to Germany, she began researching the horse slaughter industry, Meadows said. In less than two years, she had given up her job as an attorney, moved to Maryland and started Animals&rsquo Angels Inc., a nonprofit devoted to exposing animal cruelty, with a focus on horse slaughter.
Investigations were launched by Animals&rsquo Angels. Results were published online. Donations came pouring in.
Animals&rsquo Angels, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, raised more than $6 million between 2013 and 2018, according to tax forms. There are 665 investigative reports published on the group&rsquos website, with more than 500 on horse slaughter.
Even though transporting American horses for slaughter is legal, Meadows said she has found countless cases of animal cruelty and reported alleged offenders to authorities.
McBarron is one of 40 large-scale kill buyers she has identified. The signs of his financial success are easy to spot.
Two horses pass along a fence before being loaded into a Mike McBarron's trailer. (Photo: Michael Mulvey, USA TODAY Sports)
McBarron lives on a 9.7-acre property about 20 miles east of Dallas, and his Mercedes and Chevy Suburban were parked in the carport during a visit to his home. He lives with his wife, Katie, and her young daughter from a previous relationship.
McBarron also owns a 23-foot pontoon and, according to public records, lakefront property in Malakoff, Texas, that he bought this year for about $500,000.
Yet because he has made his money in the horse slaughter business, McBarron said, animal rights activists think he&rsquos &ldquothe devil.&rsquo&rsquo Think again, McBarron said.
&ldquoI&rsquom going to heaven when I die,&rsquo&rsquo he said. &ldquoI&rsquom a Christian, a born-again Christian. I believe in Jesus, I&rsquom a godly man.
&ldquoYou know, I got a little potty mouth. I can&rsquot help it. We all fall short of the Lord, you know what I&rsquom saying?&rsquo&rsquo
In 2007, the USDA fined him $21,000 for violations that included shipping a horse that could not bear weight on all four legs and for non-compliant paperwork, according to records. McBarron told a USDA investigator he tried to pay a veterinarian to sign 50 blank health certificates, which is illegal.
&ldquoAnd he would not do it,&rsquo&rsquo McBarron told the USDA investigator of the veterinarian, according to a transcript of the interview.
In August, about 70 miles from his home, McBarron pulled into the parking lot at Johnson County Livestock Exchange in Cleburne, Texas, for a weekly horse auction. Meadows and her husband had arrived more than an hour earlier.
McBarron was looking for horses. Meadows was looking for dirt.
The future of horse slaughter
Fiddling with his cellphone and taking an occasional dip of smokeless tobacco, McBarron stood inside the arena during the auction. By his own count, McBarron bought 29 horses, including the two thoroughbreds for sale.
Before the auction began, one of the thoroughbreds caught Meadows&rsquo attention. She approached the horse, spotted a gash inside its left hind leg and took a photo of the injury. She also took video of malnourished-looking horses. Never mind the posted signs stating no photos or video allowed.
Though McBarron has been one of her targets, Meadows said the ultimate goal is to end horse slaughter for human consumption.
&ldquoWe&rsquore currently working on stopping the demand in Europe by showing the primary consumer over there what these horses go through over here,&rsquo&rsquo she said. &ldquoAnd it&rsquos been pretty successful.&rsquo&rsquo
In 2014, Meadows presented a report on behalf of Animals&rsquo Angels in Brussels to the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, showing evidence of widespread animal cruelty in the horse slaughter industry. Effective January 2015, the EU banned the import of horse meat from Mexico &mdash a decision that was triggered in part by the detection of banned veterinary drugs in Mexican horse meat.
Since then, the annual number of horses exported for slaughter to Mexico and Canada last year dropped to 97,000 from 152,000, according to figures from the Equine Welfare Alliance. The number is projected to drop again this year.
The push for a law to permanently ban horse slaughter in the U.S. and to forbid the export of horses continues, with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and three other senators sponsoring the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act &mdash legislation that would ban the transport and export of horses for slaughter.
Holland, president of the Equine Welfare Alliance, said there&rsquos no need to fear horse overpopulation if horse slaughter is eliminated as a way to absorb so-called unwanted horses. He said the historical record proves market forces quickly correct the potential issue of horse overpopulation.
&ldquoThis is not to say that we should not discourage overbreeding,&rsquo&rsquo said Holland, who also supports retraining racehorses for second careers such as trail horses and who commended the National Thoroughbred Racing Association for bolstered efforts in doing that.
Said Waldrop, the NTRA&rsquos president, &ldquoWe&rsquove got to end the slaughter of horses for human consumption. We&rsquore going to do everything we can to take care of every thoroughbred when it comes off the track.&rsquo&rsquo
If new homes and second careers can't be found for those horses, McBarron and the kill buyers are waiting.
&ldquoWell, people like me buy &rsquoem because that&rsquos what we do,&rsquo&rsquo McBarron said. &ldquoI&rsquom just trying to make a little money.&rsquo&rsquo
Thanks to Congress, Horse Meat Won't Be Coming to a Supermarket Near You
After the horse meat scandal of 2013, it seemed like a possibility that horses would be slaughtered for consumption in the U.S. According to NPR's food blog The Salt, horse meat is an extremely polarizing issue in America. A federal ban on producing horse meat was lifted a few years ago, but the people trying to open slaughterhouses ran into problem after problem as groups tried to stop any progress. Now it looks like the potential for horse meat slaughterhouses will be blocked altogether after Congress added language that would stop horse meat production in the U.S. to the spending bill. President Obama is the last signature needed to pass the bill, as the Senate and the House of Representatives have both already given approval.
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Local horse meat? Congress says sure, for now
U.S. Bureau of Land Management
Fans of sfilacci di cavallo, malgogi-yukhoe , basashi, or regular old entrecôte of horse have a new cause for celebration: Locally sourced horse meat may soon be available in the United States. A controversial lift on a de facto ban of horse slaughter for human consumption passed a crucial hurdle in the House on Wednesday—by just one vote, the Miami-Herald reports.
Domestic horse slaughter is effectively banned as a result of amendments that have been repeatedly passed in Department of Agriculture budget appropriations bills since 2005 (there have been a few exceptions—more on that in a minute). These amendments ban the use of government funding for inspecting facilities that slaughter horses. From 2005 to 2007, horse slaughterhouses were allowed to foot the bill for their own USDA inspections, but that loophole soon closed. And since slaughterhouses that don’t have USDA approval can’t really sell meat anywhere, all three U.S. slaughter facilities that used to deal in horse meat shuttered by the end of 2007.
But the election of Donald Trump got animal rights advocates and ranchers alike wondering if changes were ahoof. “There’s a new sheriff in town,” rancher and Republican state Rep. Warren Love of Missouri told the Kansas City Star . A Humane Society spokeswoman told the paper she anticipated “a major battle over horse slaughter.”
So here we are at the start of that battle: The amendment that would keep the ban in place has been struck down in a 27-25 vote in appropriations. Next, the Department of Agriculture funding bill has to pass the House. Will we all be eating horse burgers by the end of the summer?
Not so fast. This has all happened before, as recently as 2013. Turns out, once the horse slaughterhouses shutter, it’s really hard to open them back up.
Before we get into bleak story of the slaughterhouse hopefuls of the early 2010s, a quick recap on why this issue is so controversial. The anti-horse slaughter side is pretty obvious—anyone who’s ever hung out with an 11-year-old girl understands the gist of that argument. Horses have big brown eyes, horses are smart, horses are our friends. There’s also some evidence that the slaughter process itself is especially inhumane, and opponents have argued that horse slaughter carries serious food safety and environmental implications. The ASPCA has been a highly vocal opponent of horse slaughter for a long time, and animal rights activists were instrumental in passing the initial ban.
But as the Christian Science Monitor points out, slaughtering horses to export their meat to Europe and Asia was a $4 million industry prior to the ban. And since the U.S.-based slaughterhouses closed, live animals have been shipped from the U.S. to Mexico and Canada to be slaughtered and sold as meat there. A whole sub-industry of “ kill buyers ” has sprung up to resell horses to slaughterhouses abroad, and the Miami Herald estimates more than 100,000 animals are shipped across the border alive every year. That journey can be long and grueling for the animals, and proponents of slaughter in the U.S. say keeping it in-country might actually be more humane.
(There’s a whole other angle to this debate, too: In western states, wild horses are removed from park lands and sold. A 1997 L.A. Times exposé found that 90 percent of horses “adopted” by members of the public wound up resold for slaughter. This piece of the argument is even more contentious— The Atlantic has a useful backgrounder . Bear in mind that while these stories may make it seem like wild mustangs represent a large proportion of the 100,000-plus animals that are shipped to Canada and Mexico, the Bureau of Land Management’s records indicate its program has affected only about 6,000 horses per year since 1971—or 6 percent of the horses sold for slaughter.)
Back to the regulations: In 2011, an appropriations bill was passed that lifted the ban on USDA funding for the inspection of slaughterhouses that process horses. In Roswell, New Mexico, one couple decided to convert their cattle processing facility to accommodate horses.
But Rick and Sarah De Los Santos’ decision quickly drew the ire of animal rights activists and local politicians, the Associated Press reported . He and his wife received death threats, saw their property vandalized, and had to hire extra security. But they pressed on, and the USDA approved their facility in April of 2013.
But Valley Meat Co. never slaughtered a single horse. The New Mexico Environmental Department refused to issue a groundwater discharge permit. (Interestingly, the groundwater discharge permit proved problematic at other facilities in different states. In Missouri, a slaughterhouse operator received a discharge permit that allowed him to process everything except equine species. He told the River Front Times he expected politics were involved.)
And the De Los Santos’ plan eventually backfired even further: After the Obama administration re-implemented the amendment that prohibited USDA funding for horse slaughter inspections in 2014, the state of New Mexico took it one step further: It sued to stop the De Los Santos’ plans, saying the facility would violate food safety and environmental laws, the Albuquerque Journal reported . Then in 2016, a state district judge issued a ruling that effectively banned horse slaughter in New Mexico forever. A phone call to a Roswell, New Mexico slaughterhouse with a similar name rang and rang with no voicemail.
Other facilities, like the one I mentioned in Missouri, as well as others in Oklahoma and Illinois, met similar obstacles. None managed to open for business before horse slaughter was banned again in 2014.
Even if the appropriations bill is passed with funding for horse facility inspections, there’s another bill kicking around in Congress that would ban the practice by deeming horse meat unsafe. The Safeguard American Food Exports act ( H.R. 113 ) would ban both slaughter and sending horses to Canada and Mexico. That bill was introduced in January of 2017. Similar bills were also introduced to Congress in previous sessions but have never come to a vote.
All this goes to show that even if the federal government signs off on domestic horse slaughter, it’s not likely to come to fruition without a pretty loud chorus of—sorry—neighs from animal rights activists, local environmental agencies, and unsympathetic politicians.
Dunn says the farm has had multiple break-ins recently, and earlier this week a bomb threat was called in. There have been death threats, too.
“I am surprised it’s risen to the level it has,” he said.
For its part, the federal government is sending out mixed messages about the future of these projects. The USDA wants the horse-killing ban reinstated, but in the absence of that would be compelled to help the factories become operational.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters Tuesday, “We’re very close to getting the work done that’s needed to be done to allow them to operate.”
But an official at the USDA indicated Wednesday that these steps could take significantly more time.
“The Food Safety and Inspection Service is currently reviewing (three) applications,” the official said. “However, given that the agency last conducted a horse inspection six years ago, FSIS has determined that despite the congressional decision to lift the ban, the agency will require a significant amount of time to update its testing and inspection processes and methods before it is fully able to develop a future inspection regimen.”
The official, pressed for clarification given Vilsack's statement the day before, then said that once the companies complete "necessary technical requirements" and the USDA agency finishes inspector training, "the department will legally have no choice but to go forward with inspections."
Vilsack’s department is rewriting the rules for horse slaughter because they need to add in findings from a 2007 food safety and animal science report.
The idea of killing horses for food has triggered strong reaction among people on both sides of the issue. Several animal rights organizations have linked legalizing the practice to horrific abuses and animal cruelty that they claim could lead to unsafe meat. Proponents say the animal is consumed in countries all over the world and could be extremely profitable to American companies interested in the industry.
Once operational, Valley Meat expects to process 100 horses a day with a net gain of about $200-$250 per horse, Dunn says.
Since the slaughters stopped in 2007, horses that were being processed on U.S. farms were sent to Mexico or Canada.
Dunn says the company would create 100 jobs in a city of 48,546, according to the latest population estimates. There were eight government job openings on Roswell’s official web site Wednesday morning.
A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers including Sens. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., has introduced legislation that would reinstate the ban on killing horses for food. Their legislation would also prohibit U.S. companies, like Valley Meat, from slaughtering animals in the U.S. and then shipping them overseas for consumption.
But it may be too little too late.
States are taking matters into their own hands and the push to pass proposals to allow horses to be slaughtered for human consumption is well under way.
On Monday, an Oklahoma Senate committee unanimously approved a bill that would end that state’s five-decade ban on the practice. The Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee voted 9-0 in favor of the bill that would allow the export of horse meat for sale to other countries. Killing horses for consumption in the U.S. would still be illegal under the bill.
Rep. Skye McNeil sponsored a similar bill on the House side and says the public needs to abandon its belief that the government is going after a beloved American pet.
“These horses have a value as a life animal,” McNeil, the bill’s sponsor told FoxNews.com. “They are very well cared for. There’s no reason they shouldn’t have a value after their usefulness is over.”
McNeil says there are more than 150,000 horses being shipped across the border for business.
“Farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma are facing hardships because of the large horse population we have in the state and the difficulty they have in managing that population, especially when horses become old,” she said in a statement to FoxNews.com. “As a rural lawmaker, I constantly hear about this difficulty and have witnessed firsthand the types of neglect and abuse problems that have come out of large groups of unwanted horses. So far, the bill has received broad, bipartisan support, because everyone in rural communities is aware of the problem.”
McNeil’s explanation doesn’t jibe with Cynthia Armstrong, the Oklahoma State Director of the Humane Society of the United States.
Armstrong says that more than 90 percent of the horses put up for slaughter are healthy. She also says the way horses are killed – the captive bolt method - cause them unnecessary harm and could taint the meat that would be later ingested by humans. Traits in horses, such as a “fight or flight” response, make accurate stunning very difficult, she said.
“As a result, horse often endure repeated blows by the captive bolt and sometimes remain conscious during dismemberment,” she said.
Like Armstrong, several animal rights groups are trying to stop states from reinstating the practice. They argue that horses aren’t raised as food animals and lack the controls and restrictions in place for cattle, swine and other poultry meats. Unlike cows and pigs, there isn’t a system to track horses from birth.
Armstrong also believes that America shouldn’t slaughter horses and says the animal plays a significant part in the culture of the country.
“We’re not killing Mr. Ed and then eating him,” New Mexico attorney Dunn says.
“Amenable species” were animals subject to the act the day before it was enacted, including cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, horses and mules.
A. Blair Dunn, the lawyer for Valley Meat, said that the Justice Department recently asked the company for an additional 60 days to file a response to its lawsuit. Mr. Dunn said the Justice Department indicated it was asking for the extra time because “the U.S.D.A. plans to issue a grant of inspection within that time, which would allow my clients to begin operations.” Mr. Dunn said that Valley Meat had hired experts in the humane treatment of horses for slaughter and was training employees. The company is not planning to sell meat in the United States, at least at the outset of its operations. “Last spring, they were in discussions with several companies in European countries about exporting their products,” he said of his clients. “I’m sure if markets do develop in this country for horse meat for human consumption, they will look at them.”
He cautioned that Valley Meat might still face challenges to opening, noting that several parties had filed briefs on both sides of the case. The Humane Society has petitioned the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration to delay approval of any facility for horse slaughter, raising questions about the presence of drugs like phenylbutazone, which is used to treat inflammation in horses.
Conversely, R-CALF USA, an organization representing about 5,000 family cattle ranching operations, has filed a brief supporting Valley Meat’s legal case. Bill Bullard, its chief executive, said his members needed horse slaughtering facilities to humanely dispose of the horses they used in their businesses once they became old or incapacitated.
“Beginning in 2006, when inspections were temporarily prohibited, these U.S. horses continue to be slaughtered in foreign countries like Mexico and Canada,” Mr. Bullard said. “We believe the Mexicans do not adhere to the same humane standards as in the United States, and so some of our members won’t sell their horses.”
Mr. Pacelle said he had been surprised to see anyone from the beef industry supporting horse slaughter. “For the cattle industry, it is a self-destructive move, since the more horse meat that’s circulating, the greater the chance it will infiltrate the food supply and decrease consumer confidence in beef,” he said.
USDA Approves Slaughtering for Horse Meat
According to NBCNews.com, the United States Agriculture Department said that based on the law they were required to issue a "grant of inspection" to Valley Meat Co. before slaughtering could begin. With that approval, the USDA will provide meat inspectors who will visit the plant, which can now process horse meat for human consumption.
Horse meat is not allowed to be sold in the U.S., however, under the law, it is legal for the plant to export the meat. The Valley Meat Company may be able to send some to Mexico, where horse meat consumption has been previously reported.
Congress banned the slaughter of horses in 2006, and this decision marks the first time since 2007 that horse meat can be processed in the United States for human consumption. Other plants in Missouri and Iowa are planning to seek similar grants from the USDA. But the Obama administration is against the move, and has urged Congress to reinstate the ban on horse meat production. NBCNews.com reports there are two bills in Congress that would stop production if they passed.
Other advocacy groups, such as the Humane Society and Front Range Equine Rescue, have threatened to sue the USDA using the argument that horses are raised as pets and as working animals. A USDA spokesperson said, "Until Congress acts, the department must comply with current law."
Do you think Congress should pass the bills that would ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption?
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6. Pig’s Blood Cake
In Taiwan, pig’s blood cake, which is made with pig’s blood and sticky rice, is a steamed snack usually served on a wooden skewer.
Its availability in the U.S. is actually debated about with some reports from Taiwan stating that it has been banned by the USDA, but it seems to be just a rumor started by a Taiwanese reporter based in Los Angeles.
“I’m not aware of any formal ban,”
Terrance Powell, bureau director of Specialized Surveillance & Enforcement Bureau of Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, told LAWeekly in 2011. “Our concern is that it is cooked to standards as far as temperature and under sanitary conditions. As long as those guidelines are followed, there is no issue with it.”
Ecosystem damage and population control
Culling is a common wildlife management practice employed to control animal populations with the goal of maintaining a healthy ecosystem and animal population. This management practice is needed for horses in the U.S.
Horses are not native to North America and were introduced in 1519. There are 81,951 total feral horses and burros living on 40,000 square miles across 10 western U.S. states (Figure 1). These animals are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and part of responsible land management is population control.
The BLM will regularly adopt horses to private owners. However, this is not a sustainable solution.
Currently, there are 9 million unwanted horses in the U.S., adoption rates are at a record low, and horse populations – without population control – will naturally double every four years. This overpopulation compromises horse welfare—competition for food and water causing horses to die of starvation—and has resulted in irreversible damage to western rangelands, a scenario that mirrors the damages caused by feral hogs in the southern U.S
Alternative population control methods (e.g., birth control) are difficult to administer to wild animals and are only effective for 12 months. Animals must be either caught and processed or shot with a dart gun on an annual basis for birth control to be effective.
This process is stressful for the animal, influences natural selection processes, and is unrealistic to implement. These ethical and logistical challenges make alternative population control methods not a pragmatic option.
Therefore, if horse population management is to be conducted using a scientifically supported, economically viable, and professionally executed manner, we must begin to embrace horse slaughter.
USDA approves horse slaughterhouse to produce meat for human consumption
The next burger you bite into might be a horsemeat burger, thanks to the U.S. government approving horse slaughterhouses to produce meat for human consumption. Valley Meat Co in Roswell, New Mexico, is being green-lighted by the USDA, which will routinely send inspectors to make sure it is slaughtering horses and processing horse meat in a “clean” way.
Additional horse meat plants are expected to be approved by the USDA in Missouri and Iowa. While horse meat can’t legally be sold in the USA for human consumption, it can be used in pet food. It may also turn up in the U.S. food supply despite its legal status because it can be sold to Mexico for human consumption, then re-labeled and shipped back into the USA for use as a low-cost meat filler. Horse meat has already been identified in a scandalous food operation in Europe, where meatballs sold throughout European grocery stores were found to be made with horse meat.
Under the Obama administration, horse slaughterhouses became legal again
Horse meat slaughterhouses were banned during the Bush administration, but under President Obama, the ban expired (in 2011), allowing horse meat slaughterhouses to restart operations. Obama says he wants Congress to ban horse meat slaughterhouses in the USA, but then again, Obama says a lot of things he doesn’t actually intend to make a reality (closing of Guantanamo, labeling GMOs, making health care free, reducing the budget deficit, etc.).
The USDA says, “it was required by law to issue the grant of inspection because Valley Meat met all federal requirements,” reports Reuters, which also says that 130,000 horses are slaughtered each year in Canada and Mexico.
U.S. companies want a piece of that business, it seems, because horses can be acquired for virtually free.
Where horses really come from for meat production
So here’s the scary part of this article for those who might be a little squeamish: Most of this horse meat comes from horse owners who decide to have their horses killed for a variety of reasons: illness, injury, or simply economic reasons such as not affording to keep them fed and cared for.
Instead of having the courage to give their own horse a dignified death — i.e. having the vet administer a lethal injection, saying a prayer and burying it on the land it enjoyed — many owners call the slaughterhouse to have the horse hauled away and subjected to a terrifying, gruesome death in a meat packing plant, surrounded by other screaming horses who are in the process of being murdered.
Horse slaughterhouses are therefore able to purchase these horses for a dollar amount that’s far below the actual cost to raise a horse. The horses are transported to the slaughterhouse facility (which is actually the largest cost of the entire thing due to fuel prices) and then their throats are slit to begin the “processing” of the meat.
Yep, Becky’s little pony that she grew up with as a teenage girl ends up bleeding out on the floor of a horse slaughterhouse in New Mexico. When expensive family pets are no longer needed, they’re just sold off for meat.
Keep that in mind if you’re considering buying a horse for your teen daughter or granddaughter. What will happen to that horse once your daughter loses interest in raising horses after discovering that raising a horse requires a tremendous amount of physical labor?
If you’re a horse owner, be a responsible one. Don’t let your horse get slaughtered for food. Because if you do, you not only cause your horse to experience a terrifying ending you also may end up eating your horse the next time you whip up some spaghetti and meatballs