Horse owners push for ban on slaughtering for meat

Scripps Howard News Service
October 06, 2004

WASHINGTON - Thousands of U.S. horses are cut up into steaks each year for human consumption in Europe, outraging some horse owners who are asking Congress to ban the slaughter.

The owners, who revere horses as part of America's Western culture, say overseas buyers are preying on domesticated creatures that deserve a better fate.

"If they want to eat horses in Europe, that's their business," Texas horse owner Mary Nash said.

A bill to ban horse slaughter for human consumption was first proposed in Congress in 2002. The current proposal has idled in a House subcommittee since 2003.

Rep. Charles Stenholm of Texas - the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee - says a ban is impractical.

"While a lot of us might wish that all unwanted horses could end their lives in idyllic retirements, that simply is not the reality we are faced with," Stenholm said.

Nash owns a farm across from one of three U.S. horsemeat factories - Dallas Crown in Fort Worth.

Representatives of the factories say the horses are unwanted, old or sick, and sometimes obtained from owners who can no longer afford them.

"People don't send good horses to auction," said John Linebarger, a spokesman for Dallas Crown and Beltex Corp., also in Fort Worth.

A third factory, in DeKalb, Ill., belongs to Cavel International of Belgium.

About 50,000 horses a year are processed at the plants, and the meat is shipped to Europe, where it can fetch $15 a pound. Horsemeat isn't sold in the United States for humans to eat, but is used in animal feed.

Linebarger said factory buyers, to maximize profits, purchase horses that cost between $300 to $400 - "horses, that as a general rule, nobody else wants."

Linebarger added that owners sometimes deliver their horses to the plants themselves when they cannot afford to euthanize and bury the animals.

Horse advocates accuse the companies of keeping such a low profile that people sometimes don't realize that they've sold a horse to a slaughterhouse. Auction houses across the country now post warning signs letting owners know of the possibility that their horses may be bought for slaughter.

Nash said most of the horses she's seen hauled in trailers and waiting to be slaughtered aren't sick or old.

"When I first got a good look at them, I thought, 'My God, these horses are gorgeous,' " Nash said. "I, like everyone else, was only told the horses were old, sick, crippled and crazy."

(Contact Tara Copp at coppt(at)