The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been selling wild horses to a dealer suspected of reselling them to slaughterhouses, according to a recent Propublica investigative report. It’s causing a stir among wild horse advocacy groups in the West.
The agency is tasked with rounding up horses and finding them good homes, but in the face of high hay prices and falling demand for horse adoption, at least 1,700 horses since 2009 have been sold to a single, allegedly unsavory buyer named Tom Davis.
Buyers sign a document promising that the horses will not be slaughtered. Tom Davis, a livestock hauler from Colorado, has never admitted to selling his horses to slaughterhouses, but Propublica reports suspicious actions: He’s moved horses illegally across state lines. Many of his explanations for where horses went do not check out, and a sizeable number are recorded as having been sent to towns near a border crossing point for horses being sent to Mexican slaughterhouses.
There have been no horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. since 2007, following state laws against horse slaughter for human consumption and a 2006 ban from Congress on funding horsemeat inspections for human consumption. Instead, slaughter horses are now sent to Canada and Mexico. A 2004 law technically allows the BLM to sell horses for slaughter, and the agency has considered it.
Davis is a vocal proponent of slaughtering wild horses: He told Propublica, “Hell, some of the finest meat you will ever eat is a fat yearling colt. What is wrong with taking all those BLM horses they got all fat and shiny and setting up a kill plant?”
Responding to the article, which came out September 28, BLM spokesman Tom Gorey told Horseback Magazine, “The Pro Publica/Denver Post article on Tom Davis, it should be noted, does not provide any evidence that wild horses sold to Davis have gone to slaughter. The BLM will investigate any credible claims that horses sold by the agency have gone to slaughter.”
In the wake of the article advocacy groups, such as the Cloud Foundation and Wild Horse Education, have condemned the practice of rounding up the horses at all and called for a full investigation of Davis. On October 1, the BLM began a new roundup that will continue through February.
Proponents of limiting wild horse populations, meanwhile, say that roundups are common sense: Horses destroy the range, trampling the earth with their hard hooves, gobbling up the available nutrients, and making life more difficult for other species, such as sage grouse and pronghorn antelope (see “Saddle Sores” by Audubon’s Incite columnist Ted Williams).
And Tom Davis’s position, that it makes sense to slaughter extra horses, is not such fringe view. In November 2011, Congress lifted its ban on funding to the FDA for horsemeat inspections. Proposals for slaughterhouses have been made in several states.
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