Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

Letter From The Editor: “Beer for my Horses”

"Singing whiskey for my men, beer for my horses."


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.


© Food Safety News
  • Temple Grandin was hired for a plant in Canada. The plant did implement her recommendations.

    The plant was eventually closed down for a time because Grandin’s recommendations failed. 


    As for the ‘unintended consequences’ of abandoning horse slaughter leading to the over abundance of horses, that’s not a proven fact. For one, horses are still being taken over the borders for slaughter. For another, the timing also coincided with a recession that led to more people abandoning their horses. 

    (Horses, by the way, that slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico don’t want because of the European provisions now of demanding a lifelong province for each horse.  Chances are the picture you used for this story is of a horse that the slaughter house in Mexico didn’t want and was abandoned at the border–so much for your ‘humane outcome’ to having horse slaughter houses. Don’t you get it yet? People involved in horse slaughtering are the worst of humanity, not the best.)

    If we have a ‘horse problem’, it’s because of over breeding horses. The solution is to stop over breeding horses. To stop breeding so many race horses (which are drugged to the eyeballs anyway). To stop breeding too many rodeo or pet horses. To discourage people from owning horses if they don’t have the financial ability to care for them. To demand that those who do have horses care for them—or face the consequences if they don’t.
    Doesn’t take high mental acuity to figure this one out: too many horses? Then don’t breed more. Darn, now why didn’t we think of that.For once can’t we focus on fixing what really needs to be fixed? Let’s working on eliminating yet another avenue of egregious human greed–not demonstrate, yet again, why the dominate species on this planet is also the most parasitic and harmful. 

  • Shirley Smith

    What a disgusting choice starvation or slaughter how about people taking responsibility for their horses that would fix the problem, stop the breeding would be one way to help also.  Slaughter is a disgusting and inhumane way because horses are flight animals I have heard the experts say it is difficult for them,  also seeing the slaughter tapes makes me sick it is so bad, maybe they ought to think about that. Horses have served us for many years now it is our turn to take care of them not slaughter them for food!  They are not raised for food and take too many not for human consumption medicines so why is it ok to slaughter them?

  • Sookey

    I don’t know the best solution to humane end of life for wild horses.   But I do not understand owners of horses kept for showing, hunting, polo, racing,  or even just recreational riding who spend many thousands of dollars on their horses while alive and well, but then when no longer functional or healthy, refuse to spend an additional few thousand to humanely PTS and bury their horses.  Instead, they try to recover a few hundred dollars for selling the aged horse to  dealers who will very UN-humanely slaughter the horses for food–if disallowed for human consumption, then pet food.   If that isn’t possible, they let their old, infirm horses starve to death.   I am not an animal rights sympathizer.   Animal rights is a kind of religion only marginally less demented than the national worship of guns.   But one does not have to pretend to love animals to wish and lobby for humane treatment of animals who give so much of themselves to us.

  • Bringing slaughter back to the US will not stop the starvation of horses.  People will continue to hoard, starve, abandon and abuse their horses (as they do with other animals) even if there were slaughter plants on every corner.  Kill buyers pounce on every “free to good home” ad and buy up horses at auctions – and more US horses (176,223) went to slaughter in 2012 than have gone to slaughter annually for the last 19 years.  Horse slaughter is money driven, period.  If there were no overseas market for horse meat, there would be no horse slaughter, and no US horses going to slaughter.  *****What will happen when the overseas horse meat markets close their doors to US horse meat?****   Rather than saying it’s EITHER slaughter OR starvation, we as a country can do better than that.  We need to have a real dialog on what the other alternatives are, and start working on and supporting them, because with the scandals about horse meat-tainted-beef and concerns about contaminated horse meat, there may soon be NO MARKET for US horse meat.  Then what will the AQHA do when there is no one to buy their cast off foals,
    or the tracks their cast off racers – the main sources of horses going to
    slaughter? These industries may actually have to take responsibility for their horses.  Maybe those industries should be responsible for creating an alternative because soon there will be no way for them to dispose of them.  Stop over breeding would be a great start.  Meanwhile, those people starving their horses should be prosecuted like any other criminal, like a person who starves their dog, even though they could have taken their dog to an animal shelter.

    • I feel that if we didnt have these stupid idiot people that hoard, starve, and absuse horses and as well as other animals then we would not have so many in the slaughter house. But should we do the same to people? I mean there is WAY too many young people having children and too many aborded. So think about it if we can kill a anmial because the owner is too lazy to feed, water, and take care of them. Then its not the anmials fault its the owner so lets make them pay for it nt the poor incentit animal!!!!!!!!! Do you agree?? I currently am raising about 20 horses and donkeys because people in my community just let them out to starve, die, or suffer. So I have a farm with 15 acres that we feed, water, and care for our horses, donkeys, as well as any other animal around here. This is not directed towards TRACY MOHR i just commented to make a post. But lets stop horese slaughter and any other animal abuse, neglect!!!!!!!!!!

  • RonnieVR

    Shame on you, Dan Flynn.  Disgust.  How ignorant (w/0 education on issue) are people like you.  And being a reporter, you do need to get  facts straight.  The slaughter of horses can never be humane. It is heinous. Horror.  Horses are massive, fight/flight animals with cranial anatomy making the p-e-n-e-t-r-a-t-i-n-g captive bolt ineffective.  Most are butchered, hung by one hoof, flailing, screaming. Temple Grandin DID attempt to design a slaughterhouse for equines, & failed.  She acknowledges the difficulty making horse slaughter humane.  Stating cameras could be installed TO WATCH THE ABUSIVE BUTCHERS!  There have always been starving horses.  Abused horses. This is due to mankind.  The owners should be arrested for animal cruelty and NOT blame the general citizenry, economy, lack of slaughter.  As you state, “None of us really wants the slaughter option.”  I take this to mean you LOVE  horses.  Others also say LOVE, yet add, ok slaughter.  Slaughter is evading responsibility.  Discarding a living, feeling being who gave all for man.  A horse is not a thing.  “Starvation versus Slaughter?”  It is evolving, state-by-state: “Starvation versus Felony,” i.e., jail time.  I thank you for  further encouragement to continue advocacy for our horses & to bring others into the light.  

  • RonnieVR

    BTW, you quote a Willie Nelson song.  Mr. Nelson is one of the strongest advocates against horse slaughter.  I am mentioning this just in case it was not known. Thank you.

  • Mr. Flynn,

    We do have a problem an it is irresponsible horse owners. Who says it is the rescues place to take horses or the tax payers funding the slaughter horse progam to solve the problem of irresponsible horse owners? Lets not forget that abuse and neglect of animals is a crime punishable by a court of law. Lets not forget that people who commit those crimes are criminals. The problem is we need stronger laws on the books for those crimes. More horses have gone to slaughter last year than the previous years. Actually the number of horses being sent to slaughter has not slowed down since the US plants have closed. You can check those figures. http://www.ams.usda.gov/mnreports/al_ls635.txt So horse slaughter has absolutely nothing to do with the crime of abuse, neglect and abandonment of horses. Don’t it make more sense that a person could get a few dollars for their horse that can still go to slaughter than to starve or abandon it? Think about it. I guess you are saying that without horse slaughter we are seeing an increase in the number of criminals in the horse industry. Maybe we need a reporter that will do a story on the rise of criminals in the horse industry and that we need stricter laws and more money invested in law enforcement to track down and punish the increasing number of criminals. After all many psychologists say there is a link of animal cruelty to cruelty to humans. http://ocw.tufts.edu/data/43/474024.pdf

    As a person who writes articles printed in the media it is your responsibility to the public to research what you write. Have your done any FOIA (Freedom of Information Requests) to the USDA in regards to horse slaughter or the transportation of equines to slaughter. I have done many as well as going to the border crossings and attending many horse slaughter auctions around the US. There are many repeat offenders who receive no fines for violations or if they receive a fine they do not pay. And they are permitted to continue in the Commercial Transportation of Equines for Slaughter. My son, who is in the radio business and I have had many conversations about people in the media not researching what they say and print. He tells me the days of investigative reporting is dead. So sad.

    Terry Torreance

  • I live in Montana, where we treat horses as livestock, not pets, even when we love them.  Yes, some folks can keep their horses through those last years but some folks can’t.  This is a tough place to live and make a living.  During the Depression, many cowboys survived by working for the CBC–the Chappel Brothers Cannery–who ran tens of thousands of horses expressly for slaughter and shipment to the-then Soviet Union and for dog food.  We need to take hysteria out of the issue and be sensible.  Just as cattle and sheep and pigs and other livestock can and are raised for slaughter, so can horses be.  They can also be slaughtered the same way other animals are and the meat used.