Have you been watching the European horsemeat scandal unfold with bemused detachment, content in the knowledge that there are no Black Beauty bits in your beef burrito? "We don't slaughter horses here," you might be reassuring yourself. "We read -- not feed -- our children Misty of Chincoteague."
Well, thanks to the efforts of greedy opportunists who view horses as "livestock" -- instead of living beings -- horses are just a heartbeat away from being slaughtered once again on American soil.
Although no horse slaughterhouses are currently operating in the United States, it is technically legal to slaughter horses here, after the reinstatement in late 2011 of funding for horse-slaughter inspections.
A company in New Mexico claims that it is weeks away from opening a horse slaughterhouse near Roswell, and a bill that is making its way through the Oklahoma legislature would repeal a decades-old law banning horse slaughter in that state.
In the meantime, American horses are being slaughtered -- just not in the United States. Every year, more than 100,000 horses are trucked hundreds of miles to slaughter in Canada and Mexico. Last year, PETA investigators documented the transport of nearly three dozen horses from a "meat buyer" in Iowa to the Les Viandes de la Petite-Nation Inc. slaughterhouse in Quebec, a gruelling 1,100-mile, 36-hour journey in subfreezing conditions. The horses were never given any food or water or off-loaded even once for a rest.
Video footage taken by a Canadian horse-protection group inside the same slaughterhouse revealed that at least 40 per cent of the horses were still conscious after supposedly being "stunned" by a captive-bolt shot to the head. One horse was shot 11 times before finally collapsing. After the footage was released, Canadian authorities temporarily closed the slaughterhouse, but the plant resumed operations just days later.
Even if you're not ethically opposed to encouraging people to make one last buck off the backs of abused, neglected and abandoned horses, you might share the concerns expressed by the Los Angeles Times about dangerous drugs that are often administered to horses and can cause serious health problems in humans who consume drug-tainted meat.
"(H)orses that are bought here to be sold to processing plants in Mexico and Canada are acquired from random sources. ... They have not been tracked from birth, as cattle and pigs are," said the Times in a recent editorial. "In addition, the horses have usually been treated over their lifetimes with a vast array of drugs, the most common of which is the pain reliever phenylbutazone, a substance the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stipulates can never be administered to animals processed for food."
There is hope on the horizon, however. A bill -- the Safeguard American Food Exports Act -- recently introduced in both chambers of Congress would outlaw horse slaughter in the U.S., as well as the transport of horses to slaughter in Canada and Mexico. Since 80 per cent of Americans are in favour of protecting horses from slaughter, you would think that this bill would be a shoo-in, but it faces stiff opposition from powerful lobbyists, so people who support the bill should contact their senators and congressional representatives immediately and urge them to vote in favour of it.
Meanwhile, thousands of horses -- including "retired" racehorses, battered rodeo broncos, broken-down carriage horses, rounded-up wild mustangs and children's discarded pets -- continue to be funneled into the slaughter pipeline.
The flesh of most horses slaughtered in Canada and Mexico is shipped overseas to Europe and Japan, although some French Canadians do eat horsemeat, and a handful of restaurants in the U.S. serve it as a novelty.
So is it all that far-fetched that last year's Kentucky Derby champ, I'll Have Another, could someday wind up in your Whopper? If you want to play it safe, you'll have another veggie burger.
Alisa Mullins is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation.
McClatchy Tribune Services