by Jane Briggs-Bunting
Horses could once again be on the dinner menu for U.S. consumers overturning a five year ban that shuttered U.S. horse slaughterhouses.
Horse meat is considered a delicacy by those epicurean connoisseurs in places like France and Japan.
President Obama signed an Agricultural appropriations bill on November 18 that included a provision for funding inspections of horse slaughterhouses. Reports the Washington Times, ”The ban had been imposed in 2006 when Congress defunded the government’s ability to inspect plants that butchered horses for consumption. Without inspections, the meat couldn’t be sold, and the industry withered.”
The new bill included money for inspections, and that means horses are back, literally, on the chopping block. The House spending bill continued the slaughterhouse ban, the Senate version did not. The horses lost in the conference committee. The change makes a lot of ranchers in places like Montana happy.
That’s not to say that things have gone well for equines before and after the 2006 ban. In places like Missoula, MT, horses, including adopted wild mustangs and old ranch horses, are routinely bought at auction and shipped north to Canada for slaughter. From start to finish the process many times has been under fire from groups like the Humane Society of the U.S. Terrified horses are jammed in to double-decker trailers and trucked for hundreds of miles to slaughterhouses just over the Canadian border.
Any horse from pricey thoroughbreds and Arabs to grade horses and rounded-up wild mustangs are all included. There are no particular breeds, like in cattle or poultry, that make better cuts of meat. Horses aren’t bred like those animals and other for meat.
One of the disgraces of the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro adoption program is the number of horses “adopted” by enterprising owners, turned out on federal land to graze, then rounded up a year and a day later when the buyer becomes the titled owner and hauled off to auction for slaughter. This despite the fact, adopters must sign a statement that they won’t do this.
Though on its website, the BLM reports it “has placed more than 225,000 wild horses and burros into private care since 1971. Many of those animals have become excellent pleasure, show, or work horses.” It has never to my knowledge followed up to inventory what happens to some of those animals. That’s one reason the mustang advocacy groups try to closely watchdog the BLM.
A good slaughterhouse will invest two bullets in the killing process. The horses are herded individually through a shoot where they are shot twice in the head, a rear leg hooked and swung upside down as they go on the conveyer belt to be bled out and cut up. Everything is used. I know. I’ve seen this.
In a story on the mustangs I covered two decades ago, I visited a horse auction in Missoula, followed a bunch of horses sold to the buyer from a Canadian slaughterhouse, and watched the process. I became a vegetarian that same day.
The horse that most haunts my memories was not a mustang (though every horse on the death ride bothered me), but an old, raw-boned white mare with a swayback and bad hocks. She’d probably taught a half dozen kids to ride, herded cattle and worked her whole life. Her owner, whoever he was, didn’t have the decency or the money to have her euthanized humanely or the courage to end her life himself with his own rifle. Instead, he sold her for a few dollars.
She arrived in that auction ring terrified. Looking in the stands for her people. She cried out over and over again. Her eyes rolling in fear. She only got one bid. The buyer from the Canadian slaughterhouse. She was herded into the truck, a big girl who was crammed in with others. She died with two bullets to her head early the next morning.