Please note that MAHR paid $550 for Civil Hero, not $5500 as the article
Racing's nasty secret:
Congress may ban export of animals killed for their meat
By JAMES MERRIWEATHER, The News Journal
Posted Sunday, June 24, 2007
Horses are paraded
onto the auction floor at the New Holland Sales Stables in
New Holland, Pa. The auction attracts stables from around
the region and is considered the first stop on the way to
the slaughterhouse for many horses.
Special to The News Journal/MATTHEW JONAS
president of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue in Chesapeake City,
Md., Carol Basile, of Friends of Twilight, and Beverly Strauss,
executive director of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue, pose with
three horses they "saved" from slaughter.
The News Journal/JENNIFER CORBETT
shows the identification number, tattooed into the horse's
upper lip, that's used for race horses.
The News Journal/JENNIFER CORBETT
Horses of all
ages and sizes await their fate at the New Holland, Pa., auction
house. About 300 horses are auctioned off weekly.
Special to The News Journal/MATTHEW JONAS
and owners browse the stables as a horse is saddled in preparation
for being shown on the auction floor.
Special to The News Journal/MATTHEW JONAS
NEW HOLLAND, Pa. -- His name is Battle Time and he's a 6-year-old Thoroughbred
-- much like many of those straining and snorting down the stretch
at Delaware Park.
Only Battle Time was ornery and his owner never could
quite bring him under control.
So he was trucked to a stable in New Holland, Pa.
-- a destination that often is the first step toward the "killer chute,"
where more than 100,000 horses are slaughtered each year to provide
meat in nations where horseflesh is a delicacy.
In the U.S., horse meat was often used in pet food,
but the practice withered away since 1966 after the Food and Drug
Administration required listing ingredients and the public voiced
its distaste, according to industry associations.
Fate was kind to Battle Time. He was bought by Elena
DiSilvestro, who runs a horse rescue operation in Hartly.
She's one of many who have battled the slaughter
business for years -- people now looking to Congress for a final victory
in an effort that has shuttered two of the three U.S. horse slaughterhouses
and may soon close the third.
Congress is considering a bill that would ban the
export of horses for slaughter for meat, a move that would seal the
fate of an industry dominated by three foreign-based corporations.
"These are our friends, our companions, and they
have been a part of our history," says Tony Leva, 62, Elena's father
and partner in the 7-year-old rescue operation. "To eat them is something
we in America don't want."
But the industry, as well as some breeders, racers,
and owners, are fighting the legislation, backed by veterinarians
and others who say the killing is humane.
More important, they believe -- and slaughter opponents
concede -- there is no other way to handle the tens of thousands of
horses that can no longer compete on tracks, pull Amish buggies or
whose owners can no longer afford them.
The stakes are high in Delaware, home to more than
30,000 horses valued in 2004 at more than $135 million. Standardbred
and Thoroughbred racing is the backbone of an equine industry the
state Agriculture Department estimated in 2003 at $360 million, involving
Equine industry officials say they cannot estimate
how many horses from Delaware are sent to auctions each year. They
say horse owners and breeders are divided in their views on horse
slaughter and the federal legislation.
The Delaware Equine Council, an umbrella for horse-related
organizations that claims about 4,000 members, is neutral on the issue.
"I think [the ban] is a good thing on one hand, but
what happens to the unwanted horses? That's a concern that many people
have," said Peggy Koster of Seaford, the council's vice president.
Linda Chick, a Harrington breeder, owns about 10
horses, including several that compete in harness races at Harrington
Raceway and Dover Downs. When they're done racing, she, like many
others in the industry, keeps them "in the pasture many times as pets
because they do convert well to being riding horses."
She's unsettled by the notion that one of her horses
might end up at a slaughterhouse: "Personally, it makes me cringe
to even think about it."
On the block
The weekly auction at New Holland Sales Stables,
about 35 miles northwest of Newark, draws hundreds of people from
The sprawling stables were built in an otherwise
quiet town of about 5,100, nestled into the rolling Lancaster County
hills, home to many Amish farms.
As many as 400 people are seated in dingy gray bleachers
to see the auction, where as many as 300 horses, lots of ponies, a
mule or two and the occasional burro change hands.
Some -- no one is sure exactly what percentage --
will be packed onto trailers and hauled to slaughterhouses, where
they'll be shot in the head, have their throats cut and eventually
have their choicest parts served up on dinner plates in France, Belgium,
Italy and Japan, where horse meat is cherished. The process is not
unlike most beef slaughterhouses.
Standing among the Amish on this Monday is Beverly
Strauss, executive director of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue in Chesapeake
City, Md., whose mission is to buy as many Thoroughbreds as she can
afford before the "killer buyers" -- the free-lance purchasing agents
for the horse meat industry -- can buy them.
"It's a nasty, nasty business," Strauss said.
The battle against slaughter is one that has been
fought for decades, but strong opposition dates to the death of Ferdinand,
a colt who won the Kentucky Derby in 1986 and the Breeder's Cup Classic
a year later. Ferdinand was retired in 1988, was a washout at stud
and was sold in 1994 to Japanese breeders. Most accounts have it that
Ferdinand was slaughtered in 2002 and either ended up as pet food
or a Japanese entree.
"Americans don't even know that horses that are not
raised for this purpose are bought by the killer buyers and sold to
slaughter," said Nancy Perry, vice president for government affairs
with the Humane Society of the United States. "This is not an industry
that we want to support in this country."
Perry's objections start with the transportation
of animals to auctions and slaughter, packed into trailers and often
traveling for hours without food or water.
In Canada, where most auctioned-off Delaware horses
go, a gunshot is delivered to a horse's head, either killing it instantly
or rendering it insensitive to pain. The horse then is hoisted up
by its hind legs for a throat cutting that makes sure that the horse
Administered properly, the killing methods are endorsed
as humane by experts who train veterinarians.
Last year, three foreign-owned slaughterhouses --
two in Texas, which have since closed, and one in Illinois -- killed
90,000 to 100,000 horses for human consumption. About 30,000 more
were shipped to Mexico and Canada to be slaughtered for food.
Perry claims the slaughterhouses have ignored expert
calls for restraints to hold a horse's head in place to make sure
that bolts and bullets are lethal. She says horses are prone to head
movements and will buck in terror at the smell of blood or the sight
of what happens to horses ahead of them.
"When they go to the 'kill box,' " Perry said, "the
only restraint is the fence under them. And you have poorly trained,
low-paid employees operating these captive bolt guns."
James D.Tucker, general manager of Cavel International
in Illinois, the only U.S. slaughterhouse still operating today, bristled
at Perry's remarks.
"We use small, hand-held devices, and we can follow
the movements of the head very effectively," he said. "It's a method
approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, and, if we
weren't doing it right, the [U.S.] Department of Agriculture would
close us down."
The American Veterinary Medical Association, which
represents 75,000 veterinarians, supports horse slaughter as a humane
means of disposing of unwanted horses. That position has spawned a
new Washington-based organization called Veterinarians for Equine
Welfare, which disagrees.
Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of the AVMA's governmental
relations division, said his group opposes the proposed legislation
because it makes no provision for the care of unwanted horses.
The Humane Society's preferred euthanasia method
-- barbiturates administered by a veterinarian -- is too costly for
most horse owners, who also would have to pay to dispose of carcasses.
"If slaughter is not an option," Lutschaunig said,
"where are we going to get the money to care for them?"
No real answer
The federal legislation does not provide an answer.
Last September, the House of Representatives passed
an export ban 263-146, but the Senate did not act before the session
ended in December.
The legislation has been re-introduced this year
and the Senate version sponsored by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., was
endorsed in April by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation
Committee. It awaits action by the full Senate.
"I can tell you that the senator wants to make sure
this cruel and inhumane process is abolished in the United States,"
spokeswoman Stephanie Allen said.
As of January, that mission had been largely accomplished.
The two Texas slaughterhouses, run by French-owned
Beltex Corp. and Belgian-owned Dallas Crown Inc., were closed in January
under a 58-year-old state law that bans the slaughter of horses for
The Illinois plant of Belgian-owned Cavel International
has kept its doors open with a temporary restraining order as it tries
to persuade a federal judge to throw out a state law enacted last
month to put it out of business.
If it loses, the domestic horse slaughter industry
will come to a halt.
Even so, Perry said the flow of horses into Mexico
has increased threefold since the Texas slaughterhouses were shut
down, exposing horses to an even worse killing process in which a
horse's neck is slashed to sever its spinal chord.
Former Texas congressman Charles Stenholm is a lobbyist
for a coalition of 200 organizations called the Horse Welfare Coalition,
which includes the three U.S. slaughterhouses. Stenholm thinks the
export ban will fail to pass.
"Some people believe no animal should ever be killed
and, certainly, not eaten," he said. "But a majority of horse owners
disagree with this legislation. If you don't want your horse slaughtered,
then don't sell it."
Delaware Park influence
The Humane Society concedes that the 440 rescue organizations
in its database can't handle all the horses that now parade to slaughter.
DiSilvestro, who operates The Summerwinds Stables
in Hartly, is always at or beyond her capacity of 10 horses. She says
the federal and state governments need to step into the breach.
"The solution is management, and, right now, there's
no management," she said.
For now, people like Strauss, the horse rescuer from
Chesapeake City, try to keep as many horses as possible alive. She
estimates that since late 2002 she's taken in more than 250 horses
and farmed out more than 300 others, many to therapeutic facilities.
Strauss, 49, was moved to rescue horses by her experience
as a trainer at Delaware Park. Horses used to be shipped straight
from the Thoroughbred racing venue to the New Holland auction when
they lost a step or two, but she credits the advent of slots gambling
in 1995 for reversing that tide.
Purses beefed up by gambling proceeds attracted better
horses, and many horses not up to Delaware Park standards still are
able to compete at lesser tracks.
Today, some of those lesser tracks send cast-off
horses to New Holland, where on a recent Monday the action on the
auction floor quickly moved through quarter horses, Belgians, Western
pleasure horses, Tennessee walkers, Standardbreds and Shetlands. Prices
ranged from $60 to $8,000.
The auctioneer and a commentator sit behind a desk
two risers up in the bleachers. About 80 minutes into the auction,
they still had to sell 250 more horses tethered to pylons. He appealed
to bidders to step up the pace.
"Keep 'em coming," he said.
Strauss bid $5,500 to beat out a 'killer buyer,'
the only other bidder, for a 3-year-old Thoroughbred named Civil Hero.
"We'll take him, evaluate him and place him as a
show horse or whatever he's going to be," she said.