Editor's note: A story appearing last week in the Empire-Tribune about horse slaughtering generated many calls and e-mails. This is another story about the horse slaughtering issue from a different perspective.
By ANGELIA JOINER Staff Writer
Brandy Whitefield watched undercover footage of a mare killed in a Kaufman County slaughterhouse that forever changed her view of killing horses for human consumption.
She said a mare was stunned with a captive bolt-action gun, then hoisted by the rear leg into the air, where her throat was slit, but not before the heavily pregnant mare's stomach was cut sliced and the foal inside removed and tossed aside. Whitefield said she was sickened and watched in horror as the mare slowly died, still kicking.
She said the Humane Society provided the film footage.
“I am not a bleeding heart. I eat meat and I don't belong to any animal activists groups,” Whitefield said. “But from that point forward I took an interest in horse welfare.”
Whitefield is a DeLeon resident with 20 horses on her 600-acre place.
Whitefield said she thought horse slaughtering had always been presented as humane with no suffering. When she learned that was not always the case she began lobbying six years ago in Austin to get the slaughterhouses closed.
“It's been illegal for a long time to sell horsemeat for human consumption in the U.S., so why are we slaughtering horses for human consumption in foreign countries?” Whitefield asked. “There's no consistency in it.”
Whitefield said the plants were also foreign owned.
In a previous E-T article, it was noted that with the recent closure of the last horse slaughtering plants in Texas and Illinois, as many as 60 to 70 horses per month could possibly be turned out to fend for themselves in Erath County because their owners would no longer have a place to go with them.
Whitefield doesn't agree. If any are turned out, she thinks the numbers will be small.
She said in California, horse slaughtering was banned in 1998, and research shows there has been no increase in neglect or cruelty since then. Also, horse theft dropped by 34 percent in that state.
Whitefield said she sees the same trends in store for Texas and other states.
Most of all she hopes the absence of slaughterhouses will help to curtail the numbers of horses turned out by “backyard breeders” who think, “a mare has to be pregnant every year,” because there will be no market for those animals. When that happens, she feels the flow of horses to Mexico and Canada for slaughter will lessen considerably.
The only reason the horses are flowing into Mexico at a high rate now is because owners are in “panic mode,” afraid they won't be able to get rid of the horses, Whitefield said.
“We won't continue to see these numbers going across the border. Once they get rid of these, why would they go back and buy more if there is no market?” Whitefield asked. “But a truly good horse from a reputable breeder will always be worth money.”
Something else Whitefield doubts the average person knows is that the USDA doesn't classify horses as livestock.
“They're considered luxury items - that's why you pay tax on horse feed and not other types of feed like cow or goat feed,” Whitefield said. “Horses are in the same category as dogs.”
In other words, she said, horses are considered pets.
Whitefield went on to say everyone knows a surplus of unwanted cats and dogs exists, but nobody is setting up slaughter plants for them and sending the meat overseas for human consumption.
“People would go nuts if that happened,” Whitefield said. “And I feel it should be the same for horses. We don't stock horse meat on our grocery shelves and we shouldn't supply American horses for people that do.”
Whitefield said many horses that did not make it on a racetrack were sent to slaughterhouses in good condition, and most other horses that arrived at the plants were not old and diseased as some have portrayed.
“Slightly more than 92 percent of horses that arrived at slaughter plants in this country were in ‘good' condition according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Guidelines for handling and transporting equines to slaughter,” Whitefield said. “This kind of counteracts the claim that only infirm, diseased, and crippled horses went to slaughter. ‘Good' means the meat was in decent condition. A crippled, old, diseased horse would not get the ‘good' seal of approval.”
Whitefield said horse slaughtering had already dropped dramatically over the last decade before the remaining three slaughter plants closed.
“I use this statistic to reinforce my idea that we are in ‘panic mode' right now and the practice of flooding them to Mexico will decrease in time as well,” Whitefield said. “Do we still need to close the borders and stop the meat from coming back here for shipping? Yes. But my point is horse slaughter was already on the decline regardless. Hopefully, this means that backyard breeding is already on the decline from other slaughter plants in other states closing earlier in the past 10 years. This would definitely help to solve the over-population problem.”
Whitefield said she understands that there will always be horses that need to be “put down” but it should be the responsibility of the owner to do so in a humane manor.
“If you can afford to buy a horse and feed it, then you can afford the $200 to euthanize it humanely,” Whitefield said.
She said rendering plants are still available to dispose of carcasses.
“The debate has been going on for years,” she said. “This is not the end of it - I know.”
ANGELIA JOINER is a staff writer for the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 254-965-3124,ext. 238.