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Food Safety News

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Letter From The Editor: Comments

I really did not plan on stirring up reader comments last week, but I did.

That’s not what I have in mind for these Sunday sermons and generating comments is never on my agenda when reporting and writing news.

Nonetheless, Food Safety News welcomes comments and from time to time, I’ve generated my share.  

Last week when I wrote about supermarkets, it was just my reactions to something we all have to do. I am always happy if I make someone smile or even chuckle a bit, but I am not here to give my political pronunciations on all foodie subjects. So, for those of you who thought I was dancing around a little, true that.

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The other subject that always brings comments that, frankly, often do not seem to be in sync with the story involved the application for a grant of inspection for horse slaughter for export by a New Mexico company that was previously in the beef slaughter business.

Just the paragraph above is enough to have me again accused of “promoting horse slaughter” by at least some of our readers.  This has been coming up repeatedly ever since I first reported on this subject. There was even a comment in our reader survey labeling me as a “promoter” of horse slaughter.

Folks, I am an observer, not a player, in this game. The Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) has been around since 1906, giving USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service the authority and mandate to provide inspection and regulation of cattle, sheep, goats, swine and equines.

But USDA was then banned by Congress from using tax money for ante-mortem inspection of horses–meaning before an animal is killed– beginning in fiscal year 2006, and in 2007 the last three horse slaughter operations in the U.S. were shut down.

Roll forward to late 2011, and a House-Senate Conference Committee and President Obama came to an agreement to resume the mostly tax-funded inspections if a qualified business requests them.

Horse slaughter is a subject where – to quote former USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety Richard Raymond – “there is no middle ground, sometimes there is no common sense.”

Since the ban was lifted, Food Safety News has reported on two potential calls on FSIS resources for horse slaughter inspection. One has involved a private group currently focused on Missouri, and the other is from Roswell, NM.

To me, the group in Missouri was news because it’s been stirring up local opposition, and the one from Roswell is news because it’s the first actual application for USDA’s services since Obama and Congress lifted the ban.

I’ve noticed that next to comments that label me as a horsemeat “promoter,” the other frequent comment theme involves denial that anybody really eats much horse meat anywhere in the world, and especially not in these United States.

I’m not sure what more to stay about that. There are numerous sources reporting that eating horse meat is common in much of Europe, Asian and South America.  The fact that we now have so many cultures and languages represented in the U.S.is why I think it is probably true that horse meat from illegal slaughter operations can fetch $40 a pound on the back roads of places like Dade County.

I also supplemented my report this week with the General Accountability Office’s (GAO) report to Congress on “Horse Welfare: Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter.”  

Released before the ban on inspections was lifted, the 67-page GAO report makes it clear that humane treatment of horses did not occur automatically when slaughter ended.

Personally, I have never eaten horse meat and doubt that I ever will. I am just not into experimenting with food when traveling abroad.  And I have a thick skin and couldn’t care less what names I get called.

I do worry about folks who are too into denial to be rational on this or any other subject.     There are problems surrounding this, which go beyond whether horse slaughter ever resumes in the U.S.

The GAO reports that abandoned horses have been left to starve all over the country, in public parks and on isolated private lands and that horses being hauled long distances without humane slaughter provisions protecting them. And it goes on and on. 

This is an issue that splits many of the horse rescue and just “horse people” from animal welfare groups. Horse country is generally skeptical about more federal mandates alone solving the problem.  

And animal welfare groups are also divided, with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals  (PETA) concluding the ban on slaughter was a mistake because it did not come with a ban on exports.  

So, in news terminology, this issue has “legs.”  It’s going off in several directions and I will do my best to bring it to you. I love it when readers help me bring out facts.  

That’s how I learned the New Mexico company making the application was suspended from slaughtering beef last February, because the firearms used to kill cows had failed to function properly.

Finally, it would be nice if everyone commenting on horse slaughter issues would try their best to discuss solutions, not to be nasty to others or me. And, if you are going to be nasty, pick on me, not the other readers who are playing nice.

As long as inspection of horse slaughter is one of the chores assigned to USDA, I am going to cover it. 

© Food Safety News
  • Jbcafe

    Well said. As tough as it is to ‘swallow’, your stance as a reporter deserves appreciation from all your readers.

  • No one said that you shouldn’t cover the topic. I hope you continue to do so.
    My concern was that you presented a rather tilted version of the story. You don’t know much about this topic, and, frankly, it showed.
    For one, you say that horse meat is common in Europe, but it really isn’t that common. To me, “common” is beef and chicken, and horse meant is no where near as commonly sold as these two meats. As an example, yes it’s eaten in Italy, but only in certain regions. In other countries, it’s only sold at some butcher shops.
    As for the plant in Texas, too many unanswered questions about this one. Why, in a country that has to import beef, would this plant become suddenly “unprofitable”? That just didn’t make sense. It shouldn’t have made sense to you, either.
    However, we know now there have been issues with the plant, and these issues should have been part of the story. But you didn’t do any digging at the USDA until a commenter pointed out that the plant license had been suspended for a time for animal cruelty.
    You also repeated an unfounded assertion that plants of this nature will take care of the unwanted and abandoned horse problem. Refutation of this assertion formed part of the challenge against the plant in Missouri. Wallis, the person behind it, already admitted they’d most likely be looking for young, healthy horses raised specifically for butchering. Why? Because companion animals are given drugs forbidden to animals that are going to become food.
    This issue is directly related to food safety–but you didn’t mention it, at all, in your original story.
    In other words, to repeat myself, you don’t know about the topic. What you seemed to do was repeat what someone told you, or what you casually read in a couple of places, without looking into other issues related to plants of this nature.
    The environmental problems associated with these plants are well known, as is the problems that towns have had with these plants in the past.
    Then there’s the inhumane treatment of the horse. In another story, I mentioned something to one of your writers: that food safety is more than just testing for E.coli–impact on the environment, humane treatment, sustainable techniques, are also part of “food safety”. In this, though, I have a feeling that I may have a fundamental disagreement with your publication.
    Such is life. If we all agreed, we’d be deadly dull.
    You picked a subject that generates passionate debate, and you picked a topic you know little about. No offense, but you really walked into it.
    There’s nothing wrong with passionate debate, or with writing about new topics–but you need to be willing to put on the asbestos suit if you’re going to write about loaded topics, and you need to be willing to listen to, and learn from, those who comment.
    This is the reality of the online world.
    You told a story. It was not a complete story. It wasn’t an accurate picture, and all of us perceived it as being tilted in favor of the plant. How could you not think you wouldn’t get hit in comments?
    Frankly, you should have welcomed these comments, because they helped complete your story. They provided the pieces you missed.
    This is also the reality of an online world. The days of journalism as broadcasting are over.
    As for how people treat each other in comments, frankly, I get irritated with publications that try to force people in a coldly dispassionate writing style, or that become Miss Manners, personified.
    There’s nothing wrong with people disagreeing. There’s nothing wrong with people strongly disagreeing. Where you want to draw the line is when people start GOING ALL CAPS, degenerate into name calling and meaningless insults, or who write unfounded accusations, or even outright lies.
    It’s your publication, but if you enforce an artificial atmosphere in your comments, you’re going to miss out on the best part of being an online publication.

  • Shirley Smith

    I have always loved horses they are fascinating, mystifying, highly intelligent and are pets just like dogs and cats to me. They are not raised for food for people and the people I have talked to lately will not eat horsemeat and I will not either. Horses excelled at making history. Fought in wars, delivered people and goods to their destinations herded cattle and have served us well and are still doing it. They are loveable and have feelings. I hope and pray that the slaughtering of them in Mexico and Canada and people trying to get them slaughterd here in the USA will not be. It is not the American way:( No to horse slaughter period:(

  • Jo-Claire Corcoran

    Your “stance” as a reporter is to report both sides. The most important aspect of this whole issue, being this is for a food safety publication, is Food Safety. One you have clearly negated to address. In this country we have strict food safety guidelines under which our food animals are raised. Horses, being classified as a companion animal by the FDA, are not raised under those same food safety guidelines. That is what you should be writing about,that and the fact that we as horse owners give our horses medications and other products which are banned from use in ANY animal intended for human consumption.
    That Bute is one of the most commonly prescribed medications in horses and that the CFIA does not even test for BUTE. Bute causes Aplastic Anemia, birth defects and other diseases and illnesses.

  • Food safety is really a serious problem,I hope that more people can join in to protect the health of ourself.