Of all the national attention New Mexico receives, becoming the only place in the United States where horses are slaughtered for human consumption is hardly something we need.
This state does not want to become known as the place where horses go to die.
Right now, Valley Meat Co. in Roswell is trying to obtain U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections so it can begin slaughtering horses to export the meat to Mexico. That’s been opposed by many animal rights activists. Adding to the controversy, a former employee of the slaughterhouse posted a video on YouTube in which he shoots a horse in the head. The man, identified as Tim Sappington, leads the horse, stops, strokes the horse’s nose and neck, and taunts “animal activists.” He takes a gun from his holster and shoots the horse he just patted in the forehead. The horse jerks into the air and then hits the ground. Sappington stares at the camera and then walks off, saying, “good.”
It is deeply unsettling. The company, which says Sappington was let go after the year-old video surfaced, stills offer a defense, though. Officials say that Sappington is exercising his right to euthanize a horse and eat the meat himself. He is being investigated for cruelty to animals, however, and the video has raised outrage all over the globe.
His actions, though, are just one part of the bigger picture. Valley Meat has been working since last year to become the first company in the U.S. since 2006 to slaughter horses for consumption. According to a recent Business Week article, the once-busy slaughterhouse has been hit hard by the drought. With no cows to slaughter, the company’s business slowed and plant owners decided to reconfigure its operations for horses.
Killing horses for meat is legal; it’s just that since 2006, Congress had stopped the USDA from funding federal inspections of horse slaughterhouses. Without inspectors, the killing can’t commence — but Congress reversed that ban in 2011 with little notice, giving companies an opening to start operations. What Valley and other potential horse slaughterhouses are hoping to capitalize on is a booming market for horsemeat. Last year, the U.S. exported 197,442 live horses to Mexico and Canada for food. Other countries eat horsemeat, and the U.S. has plenty of horses to butcher. Why not do it here and provide work for Americans? That’s their thinking. Valley Meat believes it could provide 100 jobs should the USDA allow it to open. That’s a lot for the Roswell area or for any small town in New Mexico.
Even so, there are too many questions about the drugs given to horses during their lifetime, likely making them unsafe to eat. Legislation recently introduced in Congress by Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina should become law. Their bill would ban the killing of horses for human consumption and outlaw the shipment of horses to Canada and Mexico.
Stopping the slaughter for consumption, though, is not enough. Animal activists and horse lovers also have to find ways for the horses we treasure to live out their lives in dignity. The would-be slaughterers have a point: It’s a quick, painless death. Horses dumped in the wilderness by owners who no longer want them suffer and starve to death. Slaughtering horses for food isn’t the answer, though. Congress should make sure that horse slaughterhouses aren’t re-established in the United States, especially not in New Mexico.