Story and Photo by Steven Long
After months of hype and frantic email promotion fewer than 200 traveled to snowy Las Vegas the first Monday in January to talk about saving the horse industry by reigniting the contentious issue of horse processing likely for human consumption in foreign markets.
At a kickoff dinner Monday evening less than 70 braved the cold to attend what was billed in advance as a national meeting of the horse industry.
Tuesday, on the very day President Obama signed potent new legislation giving the federal Food and Drug Administration authority over the nation’s meat supply, about 30 speakers quoted disputed numbers of abandoned horses not supported by law enforcement records.
“Never before in the annals of history has so much been misrepresented about so many by so few,” said John Holland, president of the Chicago based Equine Welfare Alliance, who watched the event on a video feed. One Las Vegas television station described Summit attendance as being in the dozens.
Many in the sparse crowd who traveled to Las Vegas South Point Hotel and Casino for a meeting styled “The Summit of the Horse” were ranchers who last year decried inspections and paperwork required by the USDA’s ill fated NAIS program which was abandoned after massive protests from horse owners and agriculture. The new FDA rules will force horse owners to send chemical free
horses to slaughter if the group’s hoped for slaughterhouses are ever built. A question never raised at the Summit was whether the U.S. would move to a meat animal passport system if horse processing were again made legal.
In some European countries, horses are required to have a passport that follows them for life showing them to be chemical free. Such is the case for all European horses bound for slaughter. Virtually all domestic American horses would fail the test for dangerous chemical contamination because of the routine administration of bute, wormers, banamine, and other substances which remain in the carcass of an animal for life. Under current FDA rules, bute is strictly prohibited in food animals and there are no provisions under FDA rules for a decontamination period as was repeatedly suggested by speakers at the summit.
Even the once protected Mustangs under the management of the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are not chemical free. Mares returned the range are administered birth control and the horses moved to holding are wormed and treated with bute for their injuries.
In addition, the European Union prohibits all wild equidae meat except zebra. BLM’s director, Bob Abbey was a keynote speaker at the summit which stated its primary purpose was to make horse slaughter for human consumption legal in the United States.
Abbey stated in no uncertain terms that the slaughter of wild horses is off the table, a direct slap in the face to summit organizers.
The BLM holds tens of thousands of wild horses in captivity. These horses, frequently acclaimed as symbols of the freedom of America, were protected under the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act. But in an 11th hour bit of politics immediately before the congress took its Christmas break a rider attached to the 2005 appropriations bill by former Montana Sen.
Conrad Burns, with the help of Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, removed those protections. BLM promptly enacted a rule stating that older, unadoptable horses, could be sold without limitation to the public. Wild horse advocates charge that the likely market is the “killer buyers” of the slaughter industry which is now located in Mexico and Canada.
Last year the BLM squandered its entire $63 million Wild Horse and Burro Program budget on massive roundups of horses the agency holds in captivity enriching private landowners for their upkeep. Last year Congress increased that budget by $12 million. Prior to captivity, the horses cost the government nothing living in freedom on the 245 million mostly vacant BLM lands.
Wild horse advocates call this waste of federal dollars and animal cruelty at its worst. In 2008, a plan to kill thousands of horses to relieve the agency of their expense was leaked to the media causing outrage among horse lovers and the general public alike.