The thought of eating horse meat is enough to make most Americans dyspeptic.
We love horses in our culture, as our young country was built on the backs of these animals who pulled wagon trains and had the postal express deliver letters to loved ones from so far away. A horse equaled freedom. A horse brought us news. A horse enabled us to build, be social and visit each other.The findings of horse meat in American fast food chain foods overseas, and now IKEA food, has people reevaluating meat in general, and if it is hypocritical to condemn horse flesh as a viable protein like beef or lamb.
But the answers are not simple. The overwhelming evidence out there paints horse meat as a much more toxic flesh to consume than previously thought, despite it's growing popularity in Europe.
The United States Department of Agriculture may approve a New Mexico equine slaughtering plant within the next two months, the New York Times has reported. The move would clear the way for the production of horse meat for human consumption in the U.S. for the first time since 2007.
Undoubtedly, horses have a special place in the national heart. They are considered majestic, wild and wonderful creatures. Many here in the USA believe horse meat as ‘untouchable’ as consuming the flesh of dogs and cats. We certainly know that dogs and cats are eaten outside of the USA.
But would you eat horse meat?
Aside from the humane arguments against commercial slaughter – which are indeed compelling – there are equally important economic and environmental arguments. Anyone who has ever driven the Interstate 5 Northbound from Los Angeles to San Francisco knows that when you pass through the stretch of Avenal to Coalinga, the air is unbreathable. The never-ending stench of cattle blood, waste and offal and wastewater system problems are just a few of the long-running problems these communities live with.
People, in general, are eating less meat overall. Bruce Friedrich, one of the most famous animal activists in the world and senior director for strategy at Farm Sanctuary - America's largest and most effective farm animal rescue and protection organization - has an expert opinion about the arbitrary distinctions Americans make between the animals they will and won't eat.
"At Farm Sanctuary, we see the distinction between horse meat and any other kind of meat as arbitrary and absurd. Horse slaughter actually is worse than pig or cattle slaughter; it can't be done humanely. But that's not what's upsetting people-what's upsetting them is that HORSES were killed. Unless someone is a vegetarian, we're not sure what they're getting so worked up about. This has dominated the UK headlines for more than a week, but seriously: There's no difference between eating a horse, dog, chicken, or pig."
"As an aside, the Horse Protection Act is important because it stops the export of horses to Canada and Mexico, which involves extreme suffering during transport and, for the horses in Mexico, especially hideous slaughter. The fact that they are horses, as opposed to pigs, is morally and logically irrelevant."
Currently, more than 100,000 American horses a year are transported to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico that serve foreign markets. The fact that there is little oversight over these transports, though that’s required by federal law, is reason to suspect there won’t be adequate supervision of new slaughterhouses either.
Terri Jay (www.TerriJay.com) is a professional horse whisperer and she is a life-long horsewoman. She operated a therapeutic horseback riding program for disabled children for over 35 years. She spoke to me about her opinion on the toxicity of the horse meat.
"Most important to note is that a horse is not raised in the USA as a food animal, and for that reason the animal is treated with a variety of toxic drugs, some of which are banned for animals headed for the foodchain. Phenylbutazone (also known as "Bute") is one such drug that the majority of horses will have ingested at some stage of their lives, without documentation. There is no quarantine period for this drug. Bute is a common anti-inflammatory and horses that are sold to abattoirs have often had a huge dosages, along with other anti-inflammatory agents such as Banamine."
She adds, "Something else to consider are the fly repellents commonly used on horses that are extremely toxic and labeled, 'Not for use on horses intended for slaughter. These topicals stay in the horse's soft tissues. Many horses are on a daily wormer that is fed through their feed which is stored systemically in their flesh. Other horses are given a paste wormer every 6 weeks to 6 months, depending on the fecal counts or the circumstances that the horse is kept in - pastured horses need to be wormed more often due to the life-cycle of parasites. Over use of wormers has caused liver failure in many horses. People over use it rather than under use it to try and prevent colic."
Another perspective was shared with me by Alex Brown, author of "Greatness and Goodness, Barbaro and his Legacy" (http://alexbrownracing.com) In his book, Mr. Brown explores Barbaro's life, examines whether he was a great racehorse, why he was so inspirational, and details his legacy. More than 100 people were interviewed for his book, including Michael Matz and some of his team, Dr. Dean Richardson and some of the New Bolton Center team, media that cover the sport of horse racing, horsemen involved in the 2006 Triple Crown, and people that worked at the racetracks where Barbaro ran.
Mr. Brown says, "Many of the horses that go to slaughter buyers are ex-race horses. They are usually kept on steroids and all kinds of other horrific products to improve or increase their speed. Bleeders are always put on Lasix. Again, it is not known how much of these products remain in the tissues and for how long. Each horse is treated differently and will receive individualized medications so it is a crap shoot to determine if any horse meat is safe for consumption."
"There is no way to test random horses to determine if a 'bunch' of horse meat is toxic or not. It must be assumed that all horse meat is tainted and toxic to those who will consume it. It poses a serious health risk for those willing to consume it. This is even true in countries that regularly consume horse meat. The consumers have no awareness that the meat they are consuming is toxic. I will say 'No thank you.'"
Perhaps the emotional connections are the most compelling reasons we as a nation are in the right to turn our backs on allowing horse meat to be acceptable food.
Mr. Brown says, "When my horses have served me and loved me and I can no longer keep them comfortable, I have them humanely euthanized and then their carcases are disposed of in a nearby landfill. They are buried immediately so that scavengers do not feed on the carcases and die."