It's been five years since the nation's last horse slaughterhouse was shut down. The Cavel horse slaughterhouse in DeKalb, Illinois, closed after Congress banned USDA inspections of horse meat -- effectively ceasing operations at the few abattoirs in the United States that dealt in horses. If the meat couldn't be inspected, after all, it couldn't be sold.
Now, Congress has quietly moved to end the ban, which means that horse slaughterhouses could once again operate in the U.S. Wrote the Chicago Tribune yesterday: "The USDA issued a statement Tuesday saying there are no slaughterhouses in the U.S. that butcher horses for human consumption now, but if one were to open, it would conduct inspections to make sure federal laws were being followed."
After the ban forced the closure of the Illinois abattoir as well as the two based in Texas, most horsemeat processing moved to Mexico and Canada, where horses are shipped long miles in cramped quarters before being put down and taken apart. Nearly 80,000 horses were shipped to Mexico in 2008, and 40,000 sent to Canada, where the processed meat is sold for roughly the same price as veal to markets in Japan, France and Belgium.
That's right; if we don't kill horses and sell their meat, our neighbors are more than willing to do so.
T. Boone Pickens -- yes, the former Texas wildcatter turned alternative energy advocate -- was instrumental in getting horse slaughterhouses shut down in the first place. When Pickens first went on his campaign to get the abattoirs closed for good, however, most Texans (nearly 90 percent, in fact) didn't even realize that horse slaughterhouses existed, let alone right in their backyard.
Dallas Crown, Inc. in Kaufman and the Beltex Corporation in Fort Worth made up two-thirds of all the horse-meat production in the U.S. before the USDA ban shut them down. Granted, neither slaughterhouse painted a rosy picture of the messy way that humans shuffle off a horse's mortal coil, but what slaughterhouse does? Robb Walsh reminded us all of the fact that getting a nice cut of beef is a dirty, bloody business in this cattle slaughterhouse video from 2009, yet we still all eat steak.
So what's wrong with having horse slaughterhouses? The only difference between the two is that Americans are born and bred on beef, but have a serious problem with eating horsemeat (aside from, oh, that time in the 1940s when Americans were eating horsemeat in record amounts). Our aversion to the stuff is the exception rather than the norm, however.
Horses have been hunted and eaten since Paleolithic times, long before humans ever domesticated the animal. The first dumplings were likely filled with horsemeat in the steppes of Central Asia (and still are today in places like Kazakhstan); today, it's considered standard fare in European and Asian countries.
One of the main reasons that horsemeat isn't as popular as other meats is that it's one of the worst animals at converting grain to edible flesh -- in other words, you have to feed a horse far more than you would a cow over its lifespan. But there's also the rather silly taboo associated with it in Anglo cultures, a taboo which primarily stems from our attachment to horses as pets and assistants rather than livestock.
Australia, for example, produces horse meat, but its population does not generally eat it. Like the U.S., the horsemeat is exported to other countries, mainly Belgium and Japan. And in 2007, the horsemeat industry there netted $10.3 million for the country. Meanwhile, countries like Canada are making upwards of $70 million a year through the sale and slaughter of horses -- money that could have remained in the U.S. were our slaughterhouses not shut down.
Granted, the two slaughterhouses in Texas had their share of issues: Both were cited for environmental concerns, and both were notorious for not paying their taxes. And neither should reopen without addressing these two serious topics. But imagine the jobs and profit that could be generated if horse slaughterhouses were to reopen in Texas -- two things that are especially needed here after the drought has taken its toll on the state this summer.
More to the point, horses would no longer need to be transported across international lines to be killed and could, as a result, be put down more humanely here in the U.S. The possibility of new slaughterhouses opening is a real one, according to the Tribune:
Dave Duquette, president of the nonprofit, pro-slaughter group United Horsemen, said no state or site has been picked yet but he's lined up plenty of investors who have expressed interest in financing a processing plant. While the last three slaughterhouses in the U.S. were owned by foreign companies, he said a new plant would be American-owned.
"I have personally probably five to 10 investors that I could call right now if I had a plant ready to go," said Duquette, who lives in Hermiston, Ore. He added, "If one plant came open in two weeks, I'd have enough money to fund it. I've got people who will put up $100,000."
Texas was once the home base of horse abattoirs in the U.S. Why shouldn't it be again?