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View From the Hill: Horse Stakes: A Medium-Rare Problem for Some

By Lance Waybright, National Grange Intern (View From The Hill Blog 5/1/13)

  MAY 1, 2013 --

Back in rural New Mexico, nestled deep in dairy country, exist several agribusinesses. Valley Meat Co. is one of those businesses. Valley Meats, owned and operated by Rick De Los Santos, is a 7,200 square-foot meatpacking plant—but Valley Meats is packing more than meat—they’ve been packing controversy.

De Los Santo says, “Everyone is talking about this as a humane issue. This is not a humane issue. It’s politics.” De Los Santo is referring to his much-anticipated green-light from USDA to allow his converted beef packing facility to open its doors—or gates—to horses.

Valley Meat Co. would be the first of nearly a dozen meatpacking facilities to enter into the horse slaughtering industry. As European Nations have been in the news lately of traditional beef being tainted with horsemeat, now wasn’t the time for entrepreneurs to venture into the horse slaughtering business, but many ranchers and meatpackers, including De Los Santo, now see this as the time.
v The dismal economy in recent years has caused many American horse owners to put their giant pets on diets, or even worse, have abandoned them. Even though the U.S. doesn’t have a strong appetite for horse meat, our neighbors to the south and north have been slaughtering horses all along. It pains meatpacking businessmen, like Rick De Los Santos, to see horses being trucked to Mexico—often times inhumanely—to meatpacking facilities.

Some proponents of the horse slaughtering industry see the animal rights element to the controversy as a fallacy, being that neglected horses are trucked for long periods of time to potentially unsafe plants that latter ship the meat to Asia. In 2011, the U.S. Government Accountability Office discovered that horse abuse and abandonment increased since Congress closed the horse slaughter industry in 2006 by defunding the mandatory USDA meat inspectors. Therefore, some believe that the horsemeat supply chain should be tilted to America’s favor, benefiting U.S. meatpackers while ensuring safe and humane measures are in effect.

Valley Meat Co. has been forced to hire guardsmen to protect the property from reoccurring vandals and other intruders. With a continuous feed of death threats, Valley Meat Co. has placed their answering machine into the hands of federal authorities for safety. However, locals are fairly indifferent to the plant and show little attention to the changes occurring at Valley Meat Co.

Labeled as murders of the majestic animals that are viewed as the iconic soul of the American west, Rick De Lost Santo has no shortage of opponents. In fact, President Obama’s administration has proposed a 2014 budget that excludes meat inspectors for horse slaughter plants, which would in effect close the operations.

Governor of New Mexico—Susana Martinez—and the New Mexico’s Attorney General—Gary King—suggest more humane acts of “horse-control” should be implemented; such as, birth control programs and additional funding for horse rescue operations.
v However, Rick De Los Santos isn’t alone. Surprisingly, the American Quarter Horse Association, numerous ranchers, several livestock associations and several Native American tribes encourage De Los Santos’ efforts, saying that any attempt to open a horse slaughter operation in the U.S would be more humane than hauling the horses to Mexico.

As Rick De Los Santos sits in his office at Valley Meat Co. wondering if his retrofitted meat plant can accommodate the planned 75-100 head of horses a day; animal activists are brainstorming ways in which to deter the industry from startup. Perhaps the American horse slaughter industry is a great example of where common-sense economics isn’t politically pretty, but very effective at increasing the well being of animals, their owners and the people that turn them into steaks.

After all, De Los Santos was correct if referring to this controversy not as a humane issue but as a strong emotional political battle.

-Lance Waybright
National Grange Intern

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