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Free Horses | Horse Slaughter Proponents Say It’s A Property Rights Issue

Posted By: JR

Washington green lighted the domestic slaughter of U.S. horses last month, but the problems it hoped to fix – abandoned animals and shipments outside the country in inhumane conditions – could persist because no one is stepping up to get into the business.

Economics and stigma seem likely to keep blocking horse slaughter.

“I don’t understand why I can’t get a local butcher to butcher my horse,” said Marcie Smith, who cares for about half a dozen horses on 70 acres in Churchville.

“I don’t know if they are afraid of the bad publicity or what, but I’ve called them and they won’t do it.”

While Virginia has had horse slaughterhouses in the past, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs isn’t aware of any discussions to restart the practice in this state, said spokeswoman Elaine Lidholm.

Horse meat and beef cannot be processed at the same facility, Lidholm said, because the cuts are too similar. For this reason, there are no local butcher shops that can handle horse meat.

And to move into slaughtering horses means giving up on an established market.

“If a farmer wants to put down their own horse and butcher it for their own consumption, they can do that,” Lidholm said. “But it’s a little too early to say that there will be (commercial) horse slaughter here in Virginia.”

Although the federal government overturned a 2006 ban on funding inspectors for horse meat plants in November, many stockyards no longer have horse auctions. The few that do have them only monthly or annually, and broodmares are only fetching around 15 cents a pound.

“Where (the ban) really hurts me is there are so many free horses out there that it hurts the prices,” Smith said. “It’s hard for me to separate out how much of (the drop in prices) is the economy and how much is the ban.”

A General Accounting Office study of the ban estimated that it reduced prices for all horses by 4 to 5 percent, but cut what people could get for lower-to-medium price horses by as much as 21 percent.

In 2010, 138,000 U.S. horses were sold at auction and shipped to Canada or Mexico, where they can be slaughtered legally and sold to foreign markets predominantly in Europe and Asia.

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