‘The Inside Story’ On Controversial Issues Facing The Horse Industry

Now: “The rest of the story.”

Perhaps, one should say: “The whole story.”

Or, maybe, “Things that haven’t been reported entirely truthfully concerning all aspects of issues facing the horse industry.”

As seemingly with many controversial subjects, those reporting on highly debatable matters sometimes don’t get all of the information, fail to keep facts straight, do not explain details completely or permit prejudice into coverage.

1362178856171.cached[1]Suspicious of such news treatment, yet attempting to relay an un-biased following of continually changing situations, there is one writer who has kept an even tighter finger on issues involving horse slaughter in this country, pharmaceutical aspects of possible drug contamination in horse meat and grazing of wild horse herds on government lands.

Vickery Eckhoff, a New York City-based writer with specific interests in horse subjects, has unveiled some of these “hidden stories,” worthy of public knowledge.

Vickery Eckhoff is a New York City-based journalist whose investigation of the horse slaughter issue has produced five radio interviews, a book proposal and 21 articles for Forbes.com, The Huffington Post and Newsweek/The Daily Beast.

As reported repeatedly in writings throughout the world for nearly two years: “Congress effectively banned horse slaughter in 2006 by halting United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) plant inspections. Due to Congressional action that lifted the ban in 2011, USDA is required to grant inspection for facilities to engage in commercial horse slaughter.”

However, intensive investigative research by Eckhoff, on that quotation originated from Associated Press, revealed: “The real story is that Congress approved defunding horse slaughter inspections in 2005, to take effect in 2006, and almost immediately, in collaboration with USDA, the three remaining horse slaughter plants (Dallas Crown and Beltex in Texas, and Cavel in Illinois) arranged to self-fund their own inspections, allowing them to continue slaughtering horses until 2007, over Congress’ objections.”

Especially interesting, according to Eckhoff: “In 2007, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a 1949 ban on slaughtering horses in Texas, that had previously gone unenforced, did apply, thus shutting down Dallas Crown and Beltex in late March. Cavel was closed in September, as a result of an Illinois state ban.”

Still, Eckhoff clarified: “Congress’ defunding of slaughter inspections in subsequent agricultural appropriations bills thus kept new plants from opening until the defunding language got removed by three Congressmen in a conference committee session after it had been approved.

“But, Congress’ defunding of inspections never succeeded in banning slaughter in 2006, even though it intended to, and it didn’t shut a single plant, as the Associated Press has been reporting,” she emphasized.

Drugs In Horses And Their Meat…

Headquartered in Schaumburg, Illinois, and with a governmental relations division in Washington, D.C., the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) founded in 1863, is a not-for-profit association representing more than 84,000 U.S. veterinarians working in private and corporate practice, government, industry, academia, and uniformed services.

The AVMA has supported horse slaughter, according to wire service writings, citing animal welfare issues including abandonment of unwanted horses, inhumane treatment, such as starving horses because owners are incapable of purchasing feed, and overpopulation of wild horse herds on native lands depleting subsequent resources.

It is pointed out that there had been abandonment of horses prior to horse slaughter plant closings, and underfed horses have long been a problem with some owners in certain locales.

However, Eckhoff is alarmed that the AVMA, despite supporting horse slaughter, has ignored the fact that many of these horses could have been treated with medications that pose health hazards to people who might consume the meat products.

According to Eckhoff, “There are 118 drugs that are routinely administered to horses, and therefore could be found in the slaughter horse population. These drugs are banned in food animals by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), because they pose serious health hazards to people.”

The most common horse drug, phenylbutazone, generally referred to by horsemen as “bute,” has no set safe dosage level, and no withdrawal period, because it’s a known human carcinogen, according to the National Toxicology Project.

“I would hope that the AVMA’s members read the warning labels on the drugs they administer, but perhaps they don’t connect the dots to human health hazards, which is a somewhat frightening prospect,” Eckhoff evaluated.

Then, she added, “Or, they don’t care, because the health hazards will be borne by people consuming U.S. horse meat in other countries. Hard to tell why the AVMA would overlook the data and the FDA’s bans in advocating for slaughter.”

One possible connection for the AVMA is its members’ involvement with horse breeding and breeding associations, like the American Quarter Horse Association, which endorses slaughter, and 70 percent of all slaughtered breeds are Quarter Horses, Eckhoff pointed out.

“Another reason the AVMA might seemingly ignore human health hazards in horse meat is that pharmaceutical companies producing Premarin, a type of hormone replacement therapy for women, is made from the urine of pregnant mares, providing a steady supply of meat horses, along with their unwanted offspring, for slaughter companies.

“Still another is the horse racing industry, because 15-19 percent of slaughtered horses are off-the-track Thoroughbreds, USDA figures show,” Eckhoff said. 

Mustangs On Government Land…

Handling of wild horses on government land, and subsequent programs to keep mustangs from those rangelands on private land supported by tax dollars, and the adoption programs making those animals available to the public continue to draw extremely vocal opinions from all sides as well.

However, Associated Press reporting that the wild horse herds are depleting resources has been proven unsubstantiated, according to Eckhoff’s continued dedicated research into issues involving horses.

“Stories about ‘overpopulation of horse herds on native lands, and the subsequent resource depletion’ are in error,” Eckhoff stated emphatically.

“This false information started appearing several years ago, and somehow the alleged numbers of horses overrunning native lands grew from 30,000 in 2012 to 70-75,000 in 2013,” Eckhoff said.

In attempting to evaluate those ostensibly physically-impossible horse population growth reports, Eckhoff explained, “I asked the Associated Press reporter Jeri Clausing to provide a source for this data, and she refused to answer the question. So, I talked to Erny Zah, spokesperson for Ben Shelly, president of the Navajo Nation.

“Mr. Zah basically said that the Navajo didn’t have a count of horses, just an estimate. Leland Grass, also of the Navajo Nation, confirmed that no count had been done,” Eckhoff related.

Then, Eckhoff added, “The Navajo dropped their support for slaughtering horses on their lands, and are now against it, and so the discussion of horse overpopulation has disappeared.

“But, for the AVMA to use what is a made up piece of data is pretty irresponsible. And, the AVMA’s failure to heed the drug problems makes it worse,” Eckhoff evaluated.