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.
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.