The additional DNA testing in Europe found more horsemeat masquerading as beef and put more names on the list of world recognizable food brands that were apparent victims of this continent-wide fraud that now includes the likes of IKEA, Burger King, Taco Bell and many others.
You can get whiplash from trying to follow this one. Our colleague Phyllis Entis at eFoodalert is brave enough to do the play-by-play. And it is easy to understand why everybody attending those meetings of European Union (EU) ministers is pointing his or her fingers at somebody else.
Except for those bruised brands, the United States remains mostly untouched and this “horse Euro-gate” is primary about food fraud, not one of food safety. The one caveat is that criminals engaged in fraud are not likely to give a rat’s rear end about food safety.
While we wait for the EU and the individual counties to investigate how the continent got into this mess, it’s worth thinking about what all this means for the U.S.
Our problem is not cheap horsemeat being substituted for more expensive beef, we just have a horse problem. It’s one that is shared throughout rural America, but has been especially obvious in the West and Southwest.
At the heart of our horse problem is economics. Horses are too often being found starving and abandoned. On Denver TV, abandoned horse stories are sometimes from “Crime Stoppers,” the reward-for-information program to help local law enforcement.
For the past six years, horse country has suffered from the unintended consequences of ending horse slaughter in the U.S. While horses can be exported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, that has not been enough of a safety value for horse values. (About 160,000 were sent north or south last year.)
The U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) two years ago documented the fact the ban on domestic slaughter was the cause of an equine welfare problem that needed to be solved with or without bringing back domestic slaughter.
While the Obama Administration and Congress lifted the ban a year ago, the situation has seriously deteriorated since the GAO report. The drought in the West and Southwest is far worse, making a simple bale of hay rare and expensive.
We are now at the “starvation versus slaughter” moment.
Stephanie Strom, writing in the New York Times, has done a good job of spinning a possible conclusion to the case of Valley Meats Company versus U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The former beef plant in Roswell, NM has applied for equine inspection services from USDA, and sued in federal court when it thought the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) was dragging its feet.
That NYT story figures USDA will grant the application in the next 60 days. Now just to be clear, horses slaughtered for human consumption in Roswell would be for export only.
Valley Meats’ principal nemesis is Front Range Equine Rescue, which runs horse rescue and adoption services. Its lawyers, the group says, believe USDA is going to allow Valley Meat to begin “the toxic, inhumane and environmentally disastrous practice of horse slaughter again.”
Two years ago when it was a custom exempt beef slaughter facility, Valley Meats got into trouble with FSIS in Denver for piling up old dead dairy cows behind its facility.
If we are going to resume horse slaughter in the U.S., it’s too bad USDA is not empowered to wait for a truly well capitalized application for equine services. The folks who run Valley Meats are probably fine people, but when you have for too long a large pile of dead dairy cows, it might just be a sign that your pocketbooks are a bit too thin.
Maybe that applicant the Oklahoma Legislature is clearing the way for has some bucks. Let’s not have re-made beef plant be as good as it gets. Let’s find an applicant that can hire Dr. Temple Grandin to design a new place from scratch that will calm the horses.
None of us really wants the slaughter option. But we do not like the starvation option any better. I know it would be nice if we all wrote enough checks to rescue groups to solve the problem that way, but the GAO report depicted rescue resources as being overwhelmed by the problem.
So, just once when picking from a list of undesirable options, would it not be nice if we made sure the money was there to do it right from start? I know, I know, that’s not likely to happen out of our federal government that is not known for doing a few things very well, but many, many things not so well.
I’d like to make you feel better this Sunday morning. The best I can do is to suggest putting on Willie and Toby, and singing along:
Justice is the one thing you should always find
You got to saddle up your boys
You got to draw a hard line
When the gun smoke settles we’ll sing a victory tune
We’ll all meet back at the local saloon
We’ll raise up our glasses against evil forces
Singing whiskey for my men, beer for my horses
Photo Credit: Costilla County Sheriff, Colorado
Lyrics: “Beer for My Horses” is the title of a song recorded by American country music artists Toby Keith and Willie Nelson. It was released in April 2003 as the fourth and final single from Keith’s 2002 album Unleashed.
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