(PhatzRadio / USA Today) — Now that Congress has lifted the ban on slaughtering horses, companies plan to open horse-slaughter plants in several states, but animal rights activists say they face a rough ride.
Businesses have filed applications in New Mexico and Missouri and plan to open other facilities in Wyoming and Oklahoma. Horse-slaughter advocates want to produce jobs and lean meat that some consider a healthy delicacy for dinner tables in the USA and abroad. Animal rights groups promise legal obstacles and public protest to using as food animals that helped settle the West.
“It’s very high in protein, very low in fat,” says rancher and Wyoming state Rep. Sue Wallis, a Republican, who wants to run horse-slaughter operations in Missouri and Oklahoma, instead of shipping U.S. horses to Mexico and Canada to be slaughtered. There are markets in dozens of countries and horse meat is 40% cheaper than beef, so demand is rising as Europe’s economy worsens, Wallis says.
Before the ban, horse meat was not popular in the USA, but it could be found in some upscale restaurants. Wallis says her primary customers will be abroad, but “for the U.S. domestic market, if we have a customer that wants the meat prepared case-ready or restaurant-ready, we would be ready to do that.”
Opponents say slaughtering horses is akin to slaughtering a pet and is morally repugnant.
“It’s ultimately a value question on how we value horses in the United States,” says Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States. “Last thing we’re going to do is set up a commercial operation and sell the meat of dogs and cats in other countries. It’s unthinkable.”
He says his group will sue the U.S. Department of Agriculture under environmental impact regulations. He cites waste management concerns and says horse meat that has been treated with pharmaceuticals is unhealthy to consume.
The USDA has received one application for a slaughterhouse in New Mexico and three inquiries from cattle slaughterhouses elsewhere, but none has been approved because inspection regulations have not been updated to reflect industry changes since the ban took effect in 2006.
Horses are iconic animals that affluent Americans see as companions, says Temple Grandin, an animal behaviorist and consultant to the livestock industry. In a poor country such as Mexico, “they look at a horse as a source of protein,” she says.
Congress effectively banned horse slaughter in 2006 when it eliminated funding for horse meat inspectors. Without inspections, slaughtering plants closed, and the export of horses for slaughter in Mexico and Canada increased.
Lawmakers restored funding for inspectors in November after a report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, confirmed what some in the livestock industry say: The ban, together with a poor economy and increases in feed costs, caused the price for the cheapest live horses at auction to drop from several hundred dollars to less than $100 and contributed to a rise in neglect, abuse and abandonment. Instead of selling unwanted horses for several hundred dollars at auction, many owners had to pay for euthanasia and disposal, which can cost several hundred dollars, the report said.
Nearly all of 17 state veterinarians questioned by the GAO reported such a trend. “Without exception, these officials reported that horse welfare had generally declined” since the ban, the report said.
Pacelle disputes the GAO’s conclusion that the ban contributed to abuse, neglect and abandonment. The number of U.S. horses slaughtered remained constant around 140,000 before and after the ban, whether they were killed domestically or in other countries, he says. He agrees with another finding of the report — that horses bound for slaughter traveled greater distances to Canada and Mexico and their suffering increased.
The solution, he says, is not to lift the ban on slaughtering horses but to ban the export for slaughter. Pending legislation would do that, but similar bills have failed to pass.
Grandin says banning the export of horses for slaughter would make matters worse for horses, not better, because unwanted horses would be labeled for breeding or riding and go into an underground market in Mexico, where “there’s no supervision at all.” She advocates humane slaughter facilities and independent video monitoring to avert inhumane treatment, such as using more than one blow to kill a horse.
Cynthia MacPherson, a Missouri lawyer and horse lover who joined with activists recently to block a slaughter operation proposed for the town of Mountain Grove, predicts a bleak future for the industry in the USA.
She says, “People are going to be passionate and going to put their heart and soul into trying to stop this.”
Government forced to take abandoned cartel horses
McALLEN, Texas (AP) – Federal agents were forced to seize a dozen horses in New Mexico that are part of a racing operation allegedly laundering money for one of Mexico’s most powerful drug cartels, after their trainers refused to continue caring for them, prosecutors said in court documents filed Friday.
Prosecutors had hoped a previous protective order would force companies used to front the alleged operation to pay for the continued care of more than 400 horses. But the government has had to take custody of 12 abandoned this week.
The seizure notice came the same day an FBI agent testified in Austin that a Texas horse trainer accused of helping the ruthless Zetas drug cartel launder money would be in danger if released on bail. Eusevio Maldonado Huitron, 48, was arrested earlier this week as part of a money laundering indictment that named two high-ranking Zeta brothers among others.
Authorities estimated it would have cost Jose Trevino Morales, a third brother charged with running the U.S. horse operation, $200,000 a month to care for the hundreds of horses involved. In the indictment unsealed Tuesday in Austin, prosecutors allege millions of dollars in drug profits were funneled through the group’s quarter horse activities in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and California.
The government had tried to stay out of the horse business. But that’s hard to do when more than 400 quarter horses make up a good chunk of the assets prosecutors want forfeited. It also could be months or even years before the forfeitures can be resolved.
Anticipating this, prosecutors got a protective order earlier this month requiring that the horses continue to be fed and housed by their current caretakers. It was unclear if the front companies listed as the horses’ owners were expected to continue using money the government alleges is drug profits and the U.S. Attorney’s office did not immediately return phone messages Friday.
Among the 12 horses seized Thursday at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico were Break Out the Bullets and Eye on Corona. It wasn’t immediately clear where those horses were taken.
“Federal agents were concerned about getting enough food and water for the animals and also had security concerns regarding the facility at Ruidoso,” the notice filed in court in Austin said.
Court documents showed there was only a week’s worth of food remaining at the New Mexico stables and that, when approached by federal agents, one trainer refused to help care for the horses. Another initially agreed but then abandoned the animals because he said his dad saw media coverage of the raids and told him to get out, the document said.
John Kirby, a former federal prosecutor in San Diego who worked on money laundering cases, said seizing animals can be a headache for the government.
“When I was at the U.S. Attorney’s office a guy who was in charge of forfeiture always said never seize anything that you have to feed,” Kirby said. “And you think about it, I mean they need to eat, they need to be trained. The government is going to have to put some money into them to retain their value.”
Also in Austin on Friday, FBI agent Haskell Wilkins testified that investigators found bank statements in the home of Maldonado, the trainer, indicating about $24,000 in personal accounts belonging to his young children. He also described a picture found inside of Maldonado allegedly posing with Jose Trevino and a winning horse named “Tempting Dash.”
Wilkins said the photo shows Trevino’s children using their hands to make the numbers “40” and “42” – alleged Zeta nicknames for Miguel Trevino and Oscar Trevino.
Wilkins testified Maldonado would likely be at risk if freed on bond.
“There would definitely be some flight to avoid any type of retaliation,” Wilkins said.
A judge scheduled the hearing to continue Monday and Huitron will remain in jail until then.
Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber in Austin contributed to this report.
Giant Ryan put down; injured on Belmont Stakes day
NEW YORK (AP) – Giant Ryan, a 6-year-old horse who was injured on the Belmont Stakes undercard, was euthanized after developing the same disease that led to the death of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.
The horse was battling for the lead in the True North Handicap on June 9 when he crumpled with sesamoid fractures in his left front ankle before thousands of fans in the grandstand. Giant Ryan then was stricken with laminitis, a disease marked by inflammation in the hoof, Belmont Park said Friday.
Giant Ryan was sent to the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania on Monday and scheduled for surgery that never happened. Belmont Park said he was euthanized Thursday.
The surgery couldn’t be done right away because Giant Ryan had a blood clot, owner Shivananda Parbhoo said. The horse was treated and the clot went away, but by Thursday laminitis had begun to set in. Parbhoo said the decision to put the horse down was made so he wouldn’t suffer.
“He was happy until the end,” Parbhoo said. “He was eating and drinking, but there was nothing more to do.”
Giant Ryan won eight times in 17 starts, earning $686,841. He won the Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational at Belmont last fall. He was trained by Parbhoo’s father, Bisnath Parboo.
“It was very sad and very hard,” Parbhoo said.