South Bend Tribune
Horses sold at auction could end up on dinner plateCOMMENTARY
By NANCY J. SULOK
You might be settled in front of the TV set right now, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
As the aroma of roasting turkey wafts from the kitchen, you're hungry enough to eat one of those horses prancing down Broadway en route to Herald Square.
Hungry enough to eat a horse?
That's more than a cliché in some parts of the world.
In fact, it is possible that horses sold in northern Indiana could end up in someone's stomach halfway around the world.
The Nov. 7 issue of the Farmer's Exchange carried a page-one story about the semi-annual Topeka Draft Horse Auction.
The newspaper, based in New Paris, reported that several Japanese buyers traveled to Topeka, a small town in southwest LaGrange County, to buy Percherons and Belgians.
Reporter Jerry Goshert wrote that the sale committee chairman, LaVern Yoder, expected half of the horses purchased by the Japanese "ultimately will end up being butchered for their meat.''
Yoder told me that the Japanese bought them as parade animals.
"As far as butchering them, I don't know about that,'' he said.
"I was told that half of them were headed to the butcher market," Goshert insisted.
Dallas Martin, manager of the Topeka horse auction, said the Japanese indicated they wanted the horses for some kind of festival next year.
They never said the horses would be used as food, Martin said, although he conceded that is not out of the question.
The auction does not have a policy against selling horses for food, Yoder said.
He said the Japanese bought about 200 of the 1,431 horses that were sold.
Goshert reported that Yoder said the Japanese buyers bid up the prices, creating a "really hot'' market.
"It helped the prices," Yoder told me.
Horse meat is consumed in several countries around the world, although the United States is not one of them.
A report on the Internet said Italy has the highest rate of horse meat consumption among the European Community countries.
That may surprise some folks, since Italy was where an aversion to horse meat began. Pope Gregorio III in the 8th century said eating horse meat was abominable and people who ate it were unclean.
When mad cow disease turned many Europeans against beef, some of them turned to horse as a substitute.
Only two U.S. slaughterhouses -- Beltex Corp. and Dallas Crown Inc., both in Texas -- butcher horses for human consumption. Between the two of them, they send 42,000 to 62,000 pounds of horse meat to international markets annually.
Central Nebraska Packing in North Platte, Neb., processes about 4 million pounds a year for use as feed in U.S. zoos.
Steven Cohen, a spokesman for the Food Safety Inspection Service of the USDA, said it's not illegal to consume horse meat in the United States, but it's just not done.
Last year, 42,663 horses were slaughtered for food, Cohen said.
His agency inspects the horse processing plants just as it inspects plants that slaughter other livestock. Veterinarians are at the plants to make sure the animals are healthy.
If an animal has been taking hormones or drugs for any reason, it is quarantined until it is clean, Cohen said.
Questions have been raised out West in recent months about the potential for horses being infected with the West Nile virus.
An Oct. 13 article in the Denver Post said horses are not tested for the virus. Diedtra Henderson, the Post's science writer, reported that 594 horses in Colorado were infected with the disease this year.
The article quoted Max Coats, assistant deputy director of animal health programs for the Texas Health Commission, as saying the risk to humans from infected horse meat is low.
Back here in Topeka, Ind., Yoder said the Japanese didn't buy the top-end horses but bought animals in the middle of the price range.
The top draft horse fetched $18,500, Yoder said. It was bought for pulling, he said, perhaps at a logging company.
Nancy J. Sulok's columns appear on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. You can reach her at email@example.com, or by writing c/o South Bend Tribune, 225 W. Colfax Ave., South Bend, IN 46626, telephone (574) 235-6234.