When I was in the Marais district in Paris, France in February 2014 I ate Tartare at Le Taxi Jaune bistro and accidentally ingested horse meat. I was violently ill for 24 hours and needless to say, mentally discombobulated by the event. How could I have been so foolish and not realize what I was putting in my mouth. Horrendous experience!
I felt both guilty and betrayed. I unwittingly succumbed to the so-called ‘French-cuisine delicacy’ through falling culprit to the vagueness of the menu-explanation for the international traveller. The incident did have one positive and constructive result. It inspired to make further inquiries into the distasteful topic. Three years onward, the following shares some research adventures in North America.
I have been a train passenger on the northern route from Seattle to Washington DC on a couple of occasions. At one stage on one of my cross-country trips, I was engrossed in the pleasant scenery outside the train-window. As we approached Minnesota my emotions changed near St Cloud. I was horrified to suddenly see dozens of horses crammed into a single pen. It went by so fast but I am 100% certain of what I saw. The only reason why I was able to see over the fence is because I was in the dining-car which is on the second floor of the train. At moving or standing at ground-level the fence would simply have been too high. In other words this fence was high enough that no passer-by would ever be able to see just how many horses were contained, crammed in right next to each other. If anyone knew there were horses even there, they might only be able to hear sounds. No one could get close enough to the fence without being detected. So the train-window is really the only possible way the actual numbers of captured horses could be observed.
I can remember it being a horrifying image. My first reaction was that this was a pen of horses destined for slaughter. No empathetic human would let that many horses be crammed in such a small space.
A bit later that same day I had a conversation with a gentleman in the dining-car and he too had been disturbed by the image. He too had seen it. My mistake was that I didn’t take his name as he could have been a second witness.
In speaking further with fellow train travellers, the conundrum (I’ve been told) is this: When horses are destined-for-slaughter ‘the group’ doesn’t tend to be held in one place for long. The gathering spot frequently changes. So just because someone sights dozens of horses in a pen at one particular time doesn’t mean that if you go to that precise location in the future that you will be able to see ‘that same group’ or even a ‘second group’ of horses. Buyers know that the holding and transportation of horses destined-for-slaughter is controversial, and that increasingly animal activists are monitoring the auction houses where physically-compromised horses are being sold.
Buyers also know that it is extremely difficult for state officials to track them. They may own secondary companies such as trucking or moving companies. Enforcing USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) violations proves difficult needless to say. If horses are transferred across international borders, it should be that fuzzy documentation or concealment around transporting blind or injured horses might also be an area requiring red-flagging, especially if misuse of ‘Bute’ may also be at-issue.
I think it is worth going back to this location in Minnesota. The reason is precisely because the state is fertile ground for equine-abuse violations. Minnesota doesn’t prevent horse-slaughter. It is just kept somewhat secret. It’s worth noting; Minnesota Statutes 2016 (31.621) requires a proper sign informing if the vendor is selling horsemeat in Minnesota. Enforcement is up to the Commissioner. It doesn’t address how the horse becomes horsemeat and what ‘signs’ are required in this instance. There are virtually no obvious enforceable regulations governing the treatment of horses prior to slaughter – including the protocols for the horse during the holding and transfer period prior to slaughter. This is one of the least monitored situations. Horses for slaughter are literally treated like red-meat before they are even dead.
In speaking with the Humane Society in Washington DC in mid-March 2017 it was suggested to me that it may have been a feed-lot. Say the precise address was known it is possible that Animal Cruelty, Rescue and Response Team might be prompted to make further inquiries. If any readers are aware of this site, please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to an article in the Star Tribune, in 2013, ‘the speak’ from the state Agriculture Department official and from a representative of Von Hanson’s Meats, was that there did not appear to be any horse meat being offered in Minnesota for human consumption. The state seemed to be turning a blind eye because it is commonly known and accepted there was at the time (and still is) evidence of people in the state eating horse. Dr. Nicole Neeser, the state’s meat inspection program manager (in 2013) did not in principle have a problem with horse-meat being eaten in the state, saying…”From what I hear, it’s fairly tasty.” (Source: Star Tribune, Feb. 25, 2013). And if you read Trip Advisor reviews online in Jan. 7 2015, there is speculation that in some Inns horsemeat is making it onto guest/restaurant patrons dinner plates.
Also of concern is what is commonly referred to as the U.S-Mexico and/or U.S.-Canada horsemeat pipeline. Animal activists have zoned in on USDA backtags on U.S. horses travelling to a slaughter house in Mexico, able to be identified by the sign, Pemex (they claim they’ve seen and collected evidence on this).
All this gave rise for support for HR 113 Safe Act, which asked voters to call their federal representatives asking them to co-sponsor it. I`ve learned that Patrick Meehan (R-PA) U.S. Representative was a co-sponsor of the Safe Act two years ago.
In 2015, the documentary film, “From the Kill Pen” collated various officials speaking out against horse-meat (Source: http://www.killpenmovie.com). Natalie Rosskopf, Administrative Director at the time for ELISA Technologies, Meat Species Testing – raised awareness about what is commonly referred to as ‘Bute’ – ButaJect (Phenylbutazone Injection) 200 mg/ml which, by federal law, restricts use of this drug by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian and is approved by the FDA. Not so regulated is its misuse or overuse. This is something that needs red-flagging.
These are some of the people who are referenced in the film. Potentially they could be of assistance in gathering further evidence. Governor Bill Richardson, former Governor of New Mexico is a lead in the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife. John Holland is President of Equine Welfare Alliance. Dr. Lester Friedlander, DVM, former USDA Chief Meat Inspector, is a lead in Citizens Against Equine Slaughter.
Also of note is some of the information I’ve gathered on a U.S.-Canada pipeline. Most relevant to me is a legal horsemeat and large wild-game butcher operating in Richelieu Quebec (a region with which I have personal familiarity) – including business ties sourced in Pennsylvania that have been flagged by animal rights groups.
The final issue that must be spotlighted is blended or mixed meat known as adulterated meat, getting into the food supply. This gives rise to the issue of people eating horsemeat unknowingly and unwittingly. This is especially probable when Minnesota state did at one stage (according to the article I sourced above) attempt to make the claim that no horsemeat is readily [if at all] publicly consumed. The facts are that the law clearly allows sale of horsemeat. There would be no way of knowing, or more to the point, being able to prove that horsemeat is only ever being included in pet food.
Many horses destined for slaughter are of course former (discarded) racing horses, lame horses, old or sick horses – deemed to have no monetary value other than what the buyer can get in their being destined for meat. This writer is concerned about is the manner in which these horses are treated at this stage of the ‘economic model’ and the lax attitude of state agencies in Minnesota. The laws on their books re: allowable horse meat sale – with a sign – opens the door to extensive and normalized equine abuse.