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Friday, January 7, 2011

What’s for dinner?

Here at backyard farming, we take on all kinds of food issues. Organic food is a staple of our discussions. We jumped right into the raw milk debate. We have parleyed vegetarianism and industrial agriculture. Here is another topic which will fire up opinions – horse meat; it’s what’s for dinner. See “Making a Meal of Mustang

My first exposure to horse meat was a little unnerving. I went to a meat market in Almaty, Kazakhstan. There, hanging next to the beef, sheep, and goat carcasses were carcasses that I had not seen before. The color was deeper red, almost purplish, with yellow fat. It took me few seconds to realize they were horse carcasses. It was confirmed as I looked on a table to see skinned heads of the various species, including horses. That was almost shocking. The heads of animals are used for various dishes.

Horse meat is a bit of a luxury in Kazakhstan. The feed conversion is less efficient for horses than other species, consequently it is more expensive. Wealthy people eat younger horses raised for meat purposes. But most people eat less expensive old horses that are harvested. To Kazakhs, it seems a waste to have horses die without utilizing them. After all, they are just livestock. I ate horse meat and drank mare’s milk. I didn’t care for either. Some might dismiss Kazakhstan as an underdeveloped food culture. Well that cannot be said for Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and other European countries where horse meat is common, most notably the king of cuisine – France.
So what is the problem with horse meat in the United States? Below is a picture of my daughter, Kristie, jumping her horse Diamond, the best horse we have had on our farm. We loved him and I was sorry when she sold him to another rider to pay for college. I can’t imagine slaughtering him for meat.

“That’s the poetry! Agnes. That’s poetry!”  

Mr. Pollard to Mrs. Pollard as they watch their son canter a horse in the movie “Seabiscuit”.
We have a very old pony named Peaches that needs to be put down soon but I would never consider eating her. Yet we have a huge problem of maintaining old horses in the United States. They are basically worthless but expensive to board and feed. Very few opponents to horse slaughter are willing to bear the burden of their upkeep. They brush off the problem by arguing that people who use and enjoy younger horses should be willing to keep them in their old age. That’s what we are doing at Antietam Glen because they are our pets. But I can’t argue that to other horsemen, particularly those who view horses as livestock and not pets. I will even admit that we have had a few horses pass through our farm that I would not be opposed to harvesting. 

Some horses are slaughtered in the U.S. Some of the meat goes for animal feed such as for zoos. Most of the meat is exported to Europe since it is illegal for human consumption in some states and frowned on in all. Some U.S. horses are sold and transported to other countries for slaughter.  Laws on horse slaughter vary by state. Federal bills on the issue have been introduced but not passed.
I would ask our readers to thoughtfully consider all sides of the issue before drawing your conclusions, particularly if you do not have extensive experience with horses. The issues are never as clear as we would like them to be.



Rachel said...

I don't generally begrudge one cultures meat source as long as they slaughter it humanely. I don't mind that some eat dog and that some eat horse. I personally wouldn't eat either though because of my relationship with both. In my head they are catagorized as "pets" which is different than livestock (which I also raise). Horses are utilitarian - they have a purpose outside of being a food source. I suppose that makes the biggest difference for me. Cats control rodents. Dogs work, whether it's protection, herding or hunting. Horses also work for us. Rabbits, however, fall in the livestock category for me. Many view them as pets. I don't.

suek said...

I think you're mistaken about the federal horse slaughter issue. I'll try to find more info, but last I heard, the move had been successful, and there are no longer any slaughterhouses in the US permitted to kill horses for _human_ consumption. They are still killed for animal food.
Horses intended for slaughter are sent to Mexico or Canada, where there are still slaughterhouses that kill horses.

I don't much like the idea - I have a number of rescues from the slaughter route that I maintain - but I definitely object to restriction based on what animal consumes the meat after it's dead. That's about as dumb as it gets, imo. On the other hand, insuring that the animals are transported and killed humanely - that seems to me to be a worthwhile goal - as long as you don't get to the point of not permitting it because _any_ form of causing death is considered inhumane.

Living can be inhumane.

suek said...

Found this:


I understand why I thought it was already law. Both House and Senate have passed it, but in different Congresses, so that it hasn't passed _effectively_. State laws have succeeded in closing the slaughterhouses, rather than Federal laws.

This article was a good run-down on what's happening, and the time line. There also a "give us your info" screen that pops up ... I Xed it, and still could read the article.

teekaroo said...

I believe horse meat is desired in other cultures because compared to other meat sources, it is naturally more disease free. I've never tried it, personally. Slaughter plants have been shut down anywhere close to us. There are those that will buy horses and run them to Mexico for slaughter, but I'm sure legislation is on the way for that path also. It seems to me that those pushing for these laws are far removed from the actual horse industry. People that can no longer afford to feed or can't use their horses anymore are unable to sell or even give them away, so they simply turn them loose on BLM land, where they starve to death. I think that slaughter is a more humane way to deal with them.

suek said...

Just for informational purposes, it costs me $500 +/- to put a horse down and have it removed.

Rae said...

I am just SOOO excited to have found your site and guess what i am your #500th Follower, SO EXCITING!!!!!

marisa said...

Wahoo Rae, our 500th follower!!! I think you should get a prize or something.

Suek, wow....$500?!?!?

Teekaroo, you make a really good point.

Thank you everyone for your thoughtful and insightful comments!

suek said...


That's approximate...round figures. The vet call to euthanize is $200+. We have only one service available to remove dead horses, and the cost is $250. That includes the cost of having them "planted" in the land fill. We used to pay less if we had them taken to the renderer in the city, but the plant burned down - which suited my dead horse lady just fine...she has a problem with rendering them. It may suit her, but I don't have an objection - dead is dead. Still, I don't have other options, so I pay for her preferences. She makes a very good living, by the way. You're not allowed to bury them yourself in our county, so they have to be removed.

Anonymous said...

You all have been making some very good, thoughtful, productive comments about the issue of horse slaughter. As someone who has horses, as well as steer, goats and sheep, I am familiar with the physiology of all these "livestock" animals. Horses are "different." Thus, I am passionate about the issue of horse slaughter. Horses hold a special place in the history of civilization. Horses can not be slaughtered humanely. I have no problem with horses working for a living, but I have zero tolerance for abuse. Horse slaughter is the ultimate betrayal and abuse of a horse. By their very nature, in order for them to "work for a living" they must be socialized and acclimated to human beings. For the most part, we don't do that with other "livestock." From the moment they are born we teach horses to trust and even love us. I agree, what happens to the meat of the horse after it is euthanized is of little concern to me. But, here's the rub. The only way to euthanize a horse is by lethal injection. Once the horse is injected, it's meat is automatically rendered unfit for human consumption. In fact, horse meat in the United States is already unfit for human consumption. I would ask the horse owners here to look at the routine wormers and anti-inflammatory drugs they give their horses as responsible horse owners, and note that the labels clearly state "not to be used for animals intended for human consumption." Here where I live, to keep a horse it costs us about $500 a month, per horse (some more, some less). It costs us $400 to have a horse euthanized by the Vet and the carcass removed to the landfill. We just build that into the cost of having a horse in the first place. I firmly believe that if you can't afford the cost of a humane end of life decision, you simply can't afford to be a horse owner.

Dale Johnson said...

Thank you all for your comments. It has helped me think through my viewpoints on this subject.

Summer said...

I realize I'm late by a year... I don't see what the big deal is. I'm Muslim. We don't eat pork. We find it repulsive. You eat it, that's your business. Horse is okay, I think, but I've never had it. Animals deserve to be treated well. If you're going to kill it for food, kill it quickly and mercifully, and kill it in the name of God. Why should you feel bad for giving a horse a good, long life before eating it? Is killing it without eating it a mark of loyalty? Can you really know that lethal injection isn't painful? Anyone live to tell the tale?