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Leading a Horse to Slaughter

OPB | July 21, 2009 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 8:55 p.m.

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Paco Calvino / Flickr / Creative Commons None

We try not to rip our shows directly from the headlines of the papers we read, but some stories — like Saturday’s Oregonian article about efforts to bring back the slaughter of horses — are simply too juicy to pass up. So, with a grateful tip of the hat to our print cousins, here we go.

At issue is how to deal with what some people see as a glut of horses. Tribal groups, who say that wild horses are hurting salmon habitat, are considering slaughtering horses for pet food. And some horse owners, who warn about an unmanageable glut of unwanted horses, want Congress to once again let the USDA inspect horsemeat for human consumption. (Most likely the meat would then be sold overseas.) At the same time, animal rights activists say that the real problem on public lands in the west is cattle, not horses — and that public sentiment, as evidenced by a recent House vote, is squarely against equine killing.

This isn’t the first time that the local eating (or killing) of horses was part of national story. A Time Magazine article from 1951 pointed out that horsemeat was on the rise in Portland:

Horsemeat, hitherto eaten as a stunt or only as a last resort, was becoming an important item on Portland tables. Now there were three times as many horse butchers, selling three times as much meat. In the Portland markets, horse sirloins are 35¢ a pound, while beef is $1.14; horse tenderloins 45¢, compared to $1.95-$2.15 for beef. People who used to pretend that it was for the dog now came right out and said it was going on the table.

Times have obviously changed, and the most likely markets for horsemeat are overseas, but does this 50-year-old economic rationale still hold sway? Would you serve your family a horse pot roast (add more onions and fewer carrots, cautions Time, because the meet is naturally sweeter) if you could save real money at the grocery store?

If you eat other meat, but blanch at the prospect of horse, what’s behind your disgust?

If you’re a rancher, or a rider, or a horse enthusiast, what’s the best way to handle horses — on public or private land — that no one seems to want?

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