Horseslaughter advocates push legalization

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Horseslaughter could be revived in Nebraska and nearby states

Story and photos by Stephanie Smolek, NewsNetNebraska

They inspire us with their power, speed and grace, remind of us of the legendary Old West and connect with us emotionally. That’s why critics say horses have no business on our dinner plates.

But efforts are afoot in Nebraska and several other states to change that. Nebraska Sen. Tyson Larson proposed Legislative Bill 305 to create a state meat inspection program in Nebraska, and is taking the first steps toward legalizing horse slaughter for human consumption in Nebraska.

The state’s horse owners have been at odds since Jan. 12, when the bill was read to open a state meat inspection program. It has since been amended to create a study that would determine how feasible the program would be, Larson said, and was placed on final reading on April 13.

Proponents of the bill are people who view horses as livestock, animals to be used through their entire life cycle. Opponents see horses as companions and consider them a man or woman’s best friend for life.

The bill was drawn up, Larson said, because a state as large and spread out as Nebraska could benefit from its own state meat inspection program.

“I saw Nebraska had a need for a state meat inspection program,” Larson said. “Twenty-seven states have it, and Nebraska is lagging behind their surrounding states.”

Of these 27 states, none slaughter horses, but many, such as Wyoming, South Dakota and North Dakota, are trying to push bills that would allow horse slaughter, Larson said.

“There are no promises this would open horse processing,” he said. “But that is what our study will look at, to see if it is legally possible to slaughter horses.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture believes exporting horse meat for human consumption is illegal.

“There is no possibility under the current law for a state-inspected meat plant to ship any meat, interstate or internationally, for human consumption,” USDA spokesman Neil Gaffney told the Lincoln Journal Star.

State meat inspection programs are possible through the Federal Meat Inspection Act, USDA legislative analyst Elizabeth Boody said, but they are required to be at least equal to government inspection and can only be used to inspect product that is produced and sold within the state.

“Thus, meat, including equine, products produced under these state programs cannot be shipped across state lines or internationally,” Boody said.

State meat inspection programs cannot export their meat, only meat inspected by the federal government can be exported, Boody said.

Larson said he is questioning this, and he would like to see exactly were federal law says shipping the meat is illegal.

In 2006, the United States had three horse slaughter plants that slaughtered nearly 105,000 horses for human consumption in a year, Tadlock Cowan, a natural resources and rural development analysts said in a congressional report. Most of this meat was shipped to Europe and Asia.

Then in 2007, animal rights groups, such as the Human Society of the United States, lobbied against horse slaughter on a state and national level, Larson said. Court action closed the two plants in Texas, and a state ban closed the plant in Illinois.

Even though horse slaughter had stopped, animal rights groups continued to lobby in Congress for a more strict policy against horse slaughter, and in 2009 Congress took a step to prevent horse slaughter from occurring again by banning funds for horse meat inspectors, which are required to sell meat for human consumption, Cowan said.

Larson is proposing a study to learn if a fee-for-service meat inspection program for beef, poultry, horses, buffalo, elk and other animals would be possible and beneficial in Nebraska.

Slaughtering horses is “a sticky topic” said Lori Jaixen, professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Owners, veterinarians and educators alike debate whether horses are companion animals or livestock.

“We’ve chosen in the United States to make the horse more of a companion animal where in India the cow is,” Jaixen said. “So, it just really depends on the different views of the people.”

Now horses are being packed into trailers and shipped to Mexico and Canada to be slaughtered, and these countries do not have the regulations of the Food and Drug Administration, she said.

Once horse slaughter was banned the horse market fell under, Jaixen said.

“There was some unintentional backlash that people couldn’t have foreseen,” she said.

It became expensive to get rid of unwanted horses. Originally many adoption facilities took in horses, Jaixen said, but these facilities became saturated and many became bankrupt. Now people are trying to give horses away, she said.

It is expensive to keep a horse, and impossible to compare the expense of keeping a 1,000-pound horse versus keeping a 100-pound dog, Jaixen said. “It is really just like comparing apples and oranges.”

Some of the blame for the poor horse market falls on horse breeders, Jaixen said. There is an overabundance of breeders because they are all breeding for “quantity instead of quality in order to get their big winner,” she said.

Opponents of the bill do not think horse slaughter will help the horse industry.

“Slaughter is just a Band-Aid to help the immediate issue of the over population of horses,” Lincoln, Neb., horse owner and horseback riding instructor Peg Fairfield said.

She believes that horse owners brought the problem on themselves. Breeders are completely unregulated, she said. They can breed as many animals as they want and then ship the less desirable animals off because they only want the best animals.

Breeders are intelligently selling horses without training to naive and inexperienced people who cannot handle them and soon have to get rid of them, Fairfield said.

“We need to get the breed associations to make some regulations for their breeders,” she said.

A solution, Fairfield said, would be to only allow a mare, or female horse, to be bred every other year, cutting numbers in half. It would be better to use resources to give better care to fewer horses, she said.

“You cannot even imagine how much agony it is for people that love horses to have to even consider horses going for slaughter once again,” she said. “If we allow slaughter to happen and breeders to go unregulated we are perpetuating a very inhumane situation.”

PhotoShipping sick horses to slaughter riles horse-lovers

There is no humane way to haul horses to a slaughter house that is in bad shape and kill them, she said. “Unlike cattle, horses become terrified from the smell of blood,” she said.

“It’s unethical, it’s immoral and it’s abusive,” Fairfield said. “How can we be down to laws and money? We’re talking about living breathing animals.”

The horses traveling to Canada or Mexico for slaughter are not transported in humane ways, and the sheriff’s departments, state patrols and police cannot help because they do not have the facilities, budget or equipment to handle unwanted or illegally transported horses, she said.

These officials stop to inspect trailers of horses going to slaughter, but do not understand the information included in each horse’s registration and health papers, both of which a person must have to travel with a horse, Fairfield said.

Horse events can draw tourists, Fairfield said, and promoting good care for animals, the horse industry and tourism is a good way to paint Nebraska.

“It seems much more intelligent to promote horses in Nebraska instead of trying to cash in on their misery that humans have created,” she said.

Val Hinderlider of Break Heart Ranch Horse Rescue agreed. This bill comes down to money and attacking the Humane Society of the United States, she said.

“There is a vendetta in Nebraska against the HSUS and our horses are going to pay for that,” she said.

At least 75 percent of Nebraskans do not want horse slaughter in Nebraska, Hinderlider said.

“There is no humane slaughter for horses,” she said. “and when you get into a business you’re cost effective, and cost effective and slaughtering horses do not go together.”

Hinderlider has worked for 10 years in horse rescue to prevent horses from starving and suffering. She said people need to be responsible with their horses.

“When we’re not responsible then we come up with a bill like LB 305 that says we’re not responsible enough to take care of our animals so let’s kill them and make money off them to boot,” Hinderlider said.

Hinderlider said she would help find a better solution, but she said no one wants to, “they want the easy way out.”

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Larson disagreed and said this bill was good first step to change the situations of a half a million starving and homeless horses.

Larson said the bill focuses on improving Nebraska’s economy and keeping Nebraska’s agriculture industry competitive among surrounding states with a state meat inspection facility.

The bill was made to create a slaughter plant that would cater to the niche markets in Nebraska, such as grass fed cattle, so people in western Nebraska would not have to travel as far to sell their animals, Larson said.

Horse meat is still used in the United States as zoo meat despite the slaughter ban, Larson said. This meat is shipped back to the U.S. from Canada and Mexico.

“It is not a facility for someone like Tyson or IBP to use, but for the smaller guy,” he said.

The bill is focusing on the Nebraska economy, Larson said. This would create money for Nebraska because trucks would be entering the state needing gas and spending money, he said.

Nebraska could benefit from the bill through economic growth to communities and uptake in revenue in communities and the state, Larson said.

Opposition to the bill claim people do not want to eat the old horses that are slaughtered, but people in other countries prefer horse meat that is older, a minimum of 12 years old, Larson said. Older horses have more tender meat with less fat and smaller bones, he said.

Isolated incidents are used by opponents to show slaughter as inhumane, Larson said, but slaughter can be done right and done properly no matter what type of animal.

“We take great care in this state to make sure animals are treated humanely throughout the entire process,” he said. “And this is true for horses too.”

The number of horses slaughtered before slaughter was banned is similar to the number slaughtered after the ban, according to United States Department of Agriculture figures. Now horses are just transported to Canada and Mexico before being slaughtered.

During the committee statement of Larson’s bill, 14 people represented proponents of the bill, and 4 people represented opponents.

Horse slaughter is a necessary evil, is part of being a good steward to these animals and is better than costly euthanasia and carcass burial or rendering, proponents of the bill said at the hearing.

“Only in politically correct America can thousands of dollars be spent on an animal that should have been slaughtered,” Darrel Eberspacher, president of the Belgian Draft Horse Registry Corp. said at the hearing.

Opponents of the bill expressed their concerns during the hearing that young useful horses would be slaughtered for profit purposes. Derry Mayfield of Seward, Neb., said that does not happen. He has been running a horse buying operation since 2007 and buys large numbers of horses to be sent to Canada and Mexico for slaughter.

“I will not send a good horse to slaughter,” he said. Mayfield usually receives 15 cents per pound of horse meat, and a usable horse can sell for much more, he said.

Horse owners like Chad Hermelbracht love their horses, but say there comes a time to say goodbye.

“When a horse gets past its prime the most humane thing to do is to send that horse to a processing facility,” Hermelbracht said. “There is a certain point in its life when there is not a lot of utility left in it and the most humane way to deal with it is through horse slaughter.”

Larson said he believes the bill to create a study determining the effects and possibilities of a state meat inspection program will pass, but that “it’s a shame certain animal rights groups dictate what happens.”

The debatable future of horse slaughter in Nebraska is dependent on this bill. People consider horse slaughter inhumane and other people consider it necessary, but both groups may soon be able to appreciate these graceful animals and order them on a dinner menu too.

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