Californians to Vote on
Horse Meat Opponents
Horse to Horsemeat
Chute to “kill box”
Retractable bolt immobilizes animal
Hung by hind leg on conveyer belt
Throat cut, blood drained
Certified for public consumption
Storing, cutting, grinding, trimming, boning
“Horse meat is a little bit cheaper than beef in Europe.”
— Olivier Kemseke, horse plant owner.
By Brian Hartman
June 28, 1998 —
California voters will decide a matter of considerable taste and delicacy
in November: Should people eat horses?
Horse meat is a staple for many outside the
United States. And thousands of horses are slaughtered here each year to
feed the appetites of meat-eaters in France, Switzerland, Germany and
other nations in Europe and Asia.
The notion sickens animal rights activists, who hope
their California ballot initiative will draw national attention to an
industry unknown to most Americans.
“Let them eat their own horses,” said
Cathleen Doyle of the California Equine Council, a co-sponsor of the Save
the Horses initiative. “These are our companions and pets … We would
no more allow this to be happening to our dogs and cats—that they would
be rounded up, slaughtered and the meat sent off to be eaten—and
certainly there are countries where dogs and cats are eaten.”
In 1997, according to U.S. Department of
Agriculture officials, 88,806 horses were slaughtered for export in the
United States. That’s down substantially from 113,645 in 1996. But
activists estimate that around 10,000 of those horses came from
“They cram 48 of them onto a truck for an
excruciating three-day journey to Texas,” said Sherry DeBoer of the
non-profit group Political Animals, another co-sponsor of the initiative.
Plants Defend Slaughter
But slaughterhouse operators say they are merely saving unwanted horses,
no longer good to ride, from lives of abuse, neglect and pain. While some
horses are harvested for export, most that make it to the slaughterhouse
are bought at auction.
“We get the horse that is in bad shape,” said
Olivier Kemseke, the Belgian-born owner of Dallas Crown, Inc., one of four
horse plants in the United States. “To stop and ban horse slaughter is
unrealistic and unthinkable.”
Kemseke, a self-styled horse lover who says he
did show-jumping for 15 years in Belgium, runs a plant in Kaufman, Texas .
The plant can slaughter up to 800 horses a day, according to the U.S. Meat
Federal regulations mandate that the horses be
killed, under the watch of USDA inspectors, with a “captive bolt.” As
in the slaughter of pigs and cows, this four-inch steel bolt is driven
swiftly through the skull and into the brain.
Dr. Robert Fetzner, director of slaughter
operations at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said the
process is intended to “render the animal insensitive to pain
The horse is then drained of blood, cut, chilled
and flown to Europe for shipment to butchers.
“We do it with pride, as weird as that might
seem,” said Kemseke. “It is a business like any other business. And in
Europe, horse meat has been in demand … A lot of doctors recommend it
because it’s low in cholesterol and it’s actually the cleanest meat to
Aside from their disgust with the notion of eating horse, initiative
supporters say the slaughter itself is inhumane. Horses are herded into a
“kill box” with electrical prods. There the captive bolt, activists
say, often misses its mark and must be slammed into the skull as many as
five times before the horse is killed. Fetzner doubts these reports,
saying the USDA has inspectors monitoring every phase of the process for
each horse slaughtered in the United States. Most of the inspectors,
Fetzner included, are veterinarians by trade.
“I don’t like it myself,” Fetzner said.
“I was a practitioner at one time, and my main patient was a horse, and
I’ve had some of my staff people get very upset by going in to watch
horses being slaughtered.”
But he insists its the only way to ensure the
horses are being killed humanely.
Activists gathered 737,000 signatures. They are
raising money for graphic commercials, already in the can, with the
secretly taped slaughter of a horse.
Ad Campaign Planned
Doyle says Save the Horses is “ready to go with commercials showing that
it is not quick, clean and efficient.”
She plans late-night ad buys in as many
California districts as possible, but acknowledges she lack the cash to
blanket the state’s airwaves. More important, Doyle hopes to make some
noise by getting political reporters to review the graphic commercials
after they air.
Save the Horses also plans mass mailings to raise
Decision Research, a Washington polling firm, has
conducted surveys for Save the Horses that, Doyle said, show widespread
support for the initiative.
The initiative would make it a crime to possess
or transfer a horse, burro, pony or mule for the purposes of human
consumption. Doyle said 70 percent of respondents to their poll said they
would support the measure.
July 7 is the deadline for opponents of the
initiative to submit a defense of the industry that can be distributed to