Are wild mustangs being slaughtered?
By Bob Gaydos
Let's talk about horse meat.
What's that? You don't want to talk about horse meat? Fine. Then I'll talk and you listen. Please.
I'm talking about horse meat because there is a horse meat scandal engulfing Europe. It started with horse meat showing up in what were supposedly beef burgers in England and Ireland. It has subsequently shown up in packaged lasagna in Italy and in Swedish meatballs marketed by Ikea, which I, probably like you, thought was just a furniture company. Ikea quickly pulled all its meatballs off the market in Europe and Southeast Asia, even though the horse meat was detected only in a couple of samples in Czechoslovakia. There's a good name to protect and Ikea customers were buying what they thought was ground beef, not horse meat. A smart business move. Some packaged meat products were also found to contain horse meat. Calls for more testing are spreading across the continent.
Let's be clear. This is not a safety issue. Well, not primarily -- some drugs given to horses can be dangerous, especially for unknowing consumers. Horse meat is a regular part of the diet in some countries, France and Khazakhstan, for example, where history has set precedence for eating horse meat. But a lot of people prefer not to eat horse meat for moral, personal reasons and purposely mislabeling beef products that contain horse meat (which is cheaper to produce because of fewer controls) is not just criminal, it is, in a very real sense, immoral.
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So what? you say. Americans don't eat horse meat and don't slaughter horses. Supposedly no horse meat is imported into this country. Do I have to worry about horse meat showing up in Big Macs or tacos? (Probably not.) Then it's not our problem, right?
Not so fast. The world economy is simply too inter-related for such an easy (typically American) dismissal -- not our problem; move on. Mainstream American media news stories that finally caught up with the story, which broke in January, detailed Europe's horse meat situation and went so far, geographically speaking, as mentioning meat suppliers in Mexico, but no farther.
But it turns out that there is a very real possibility that some of the horse meat being shipped out of Mexico -- and Canada -- includes horses bought from American businesses legally prohibited from selling to horse slaughterers and, furthermore, includes wild horses, protected presumably forever by federal law to roam free on federal land, perhaps to be adopted by caring humans and to die in peace. Not in a slaughterhouse.
Americans by and large don't eat horse meat (polls show some 80 percent oppose slaughtering horses). Horse meat used to show up in pet food, but the animal decades ago passed into that special category we reserve for dogs and cats. Americans don't eat animals who are pets, companions, participants in sports or, indeed, partners in war, all of which the horse has been in America. Spike is a companion; Secretariat was a champion.
This is not a matter of taste, but respect, even love for fellow inhabitants of this planet. Americans do not raise horses for their meat and we recognize the rightness, if not the "right" of some 35,000 wild mustangs (the number once was in the millions) to run free on millions of acres of federal land in the West.
At least most of us do. Again, we're talking ethics and morals here, not personal tastes in meat products. A law protecting horses from slaughter expired in 2011, but Congress in 2005 refused to fund inspections for horse slaughterhouses and, without inspections, you can't operate a slaughterhouse in this country.
That situation has held until today. But there is an effort in New Mexico to authorize a horse slaughterhouse and Oklahoma is also debating whether to legalize the slaughter of horses. And the federal Bureau of Land Management has been under attack by advocacy groups for failing to protect the mustangs from what are said to be abusive, unnecessary efforts to cull herds through helicopter-driven roundups, for putting some 45,000 in "holding corrals" and for allegedly allowing thousands of them to be sold for slaughter in Mexico and Canada, to be shipped worldwide.
Ken Salazar recently resigned as Secretary of the Interior, admitting that the wild horses management issue was the toughest one he had faced. The wild horse advocacy groups counter that he never really faced the issue, being a former rancher who dealt with companies that sold horses to Mexican slaughterhouses. His would-be successor, Sally Jewell, is being pressured by horse advocacy groups to explain her positions on issues affecting wild horses, who must routinely battle energy companies and ranchers and farmers, whose livestock far outnumber the mustangs, for use of public lands.
While the issue has some currency, I suspect it will pass quietly from the American landscape, unless some horse meat is detected in a package of Swanson's frozen meat loaf. Then, all hell will break loose and people will demand to know how that happened. How did they get horses to slaughter? Where were the inspectors? What do you mean these were wild horses? Didn't Congress protect them in 1971, calling them "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West"? Didn't that mean for life? Who's protecting the horses?
Because, you see, Americans don't eat horse meat.
Bob Gaydos is a veteran of 40-plus years in daily newspapers. He began as police reporter with The (Binghamton, N.Y.) Sun-Bulletin, eventually covering government and politics as well as serving as city editor, features editor, sports editor and (more...)