Dutch & Danish seizures of illegally trafficked German horse meat do not mean revived demand
WASHINGTON D.C., BRUSSELS––Yes, the Bureau of Land Management under Donald Trump appointee William Perry Pendley is desperately eager to dispose of as many as 45,000 wild horses in holding pens, plus about 68,000 of the estimated 95,000 wild horses now roaming BLM land leased to ranchers in 10 western states.
Yes, the Netherlands and Denmark have in recent weeks seized at least two illegal cargoes of horse meat that were allegedly mislabeled as beef, en route from Germany to markets in a variety of undisclosed European Union nations.
But no, there is no chance that the temporary market for bogus beef created by shutdowns of slaughterhouses due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could become the “final solution” for the U.S. wild horse surplus––or the alleged Australian wild horse surplus, for that matter, occasioning the scheduled massacre of as many as 5,000 “brumbies” in Kosciuszko National Park, in the Australian Alps, to help protect the headwaters of the Murray River and help native wildlife to recover from recent bushfires.
About 25,000 brumbies inhabit the Australian Alps, according to official figures.
COVID-19 meat scarcity created temporary market
The horses exist, but oceans away from Europe. Unfilled meat demand exists, but no longer for horse meat, once a European dietary staple. The unfilled meat demand is now for beef and pork, from cattle and pigs raised and killed as plentifully as ever, whose carcasses are now going to waste because slaughterhouses are temporarily closed because of COVID-19 quarantine measures.
Horse meat already butchered and packaged for sale somewhere that slaughterhouses remain illicitly open can be disguised and sold as beef, if the packaged and mislabeled meat can be bootlegged into stores.
But if horse slaughterhouses were opened specifically to serve current demand, they would run afoul of the same conditions that have enabled COVID-19 outbreaks to spread throughout slaughterhouses of every other sort around the world. Workers would fall ill, labor unions would strike, occupational health and safety agencies would respond, and owners would reluctantly shut down many facilities from inability to either find enough skilled butchers or to meet much stricter than traditional health and safety requirements.
Even if horse slaughterhouses could uniquely operate while beef and pork slaughterhouses are closed, moreover, there is little to suggest that a generation of consumers who have turned away from eating horse meat would knowingly return to it, especially once beef and pork are again available.
BLM ramps up contraception
For that reason, the Bureau of Land Management under William Perry Pendley, while working to ease restrictions on the sale of wild horses who may be trucked to slaughter in Canada and Mexico to serve what horse meat export markets still exist, has downplayed the increasingly dim prospect of reviving horse slaughter for human consumption within the U.S.
Horses have not been legally slaughtered for human consumption in the U.S. since 2007. Several of the longtime most vociferous advocates for reopening horse slaughterhouses are now deceased. The several horse slaughterhouses that still existed as of 2007 have been repurposed or demolished. When several state governments moved to allow horse slaughter, with the proviso that meat from horses slaughtered without federal inspection could not be sold beyond state borders, few investors stepped forward with the money or credit to make it happen.
Instead of looking toward the horse meat industry for help, “The Bureau of Land Management has started testing a promising new fertility control vaccine that could help address the growing overpopulation of wild horses on public rangelands,” the agency announced on May 13, 2020.
New contraceptive vaccine shows promise
“Researchers believe the Oocyte Growth Factor (OGF) vaccine, administered to a captured wild mare through a single dose, may safely prevent pregnancy for up to three years or longer,” the BLM explained.
“Following an environmental analysis and final decision record issued last March,” the BLM said, “testing of the vaccine began on May 12, 2020, and is taking place in Carson City, Nevada as part of a joint research project between the BLM and the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service’s National Wildlife Research Center.
“As part of the project,” the BLM explained, “16 previously gathered wild mares were treated with the fertility control vaccine and will be placed in a pen with a stallion once the vaccine takes effect. Researchers will monitor the mares’ response to the vaccine and compare the results to a control group. The BLM-supported project follows a previous study that safely and effectively tested a multi-dose version of the OGF vaccine in domestic horses. The BLM seeks an effective one-dose version.
BLM wild horse population up by 7,000 despite removals
“Though the research is still in its very early phase, if proven viable, the OGF vaccine could help bolster existing methods used by the BLM to manage wild horse populations,” the BLM continued.
“The most common fertility control vaccines for wild horses in use today,” the BLM acknowledged, “are short-lasting and require near-annual retreatment to remain effective. A single-dose vaccine that can last multiple years, such as the OGF vaccine if proven viable, would provide a number of benefits for BLM, including requiring fewer instances of gathering animals for re-treatment or permanent removal.”
The Bureau of Land Management believes the wild horse population on property it owns has increased by about 7,000 over the past year. Of 11,320 horses scheduled for removal from grazing land since September 2019, only 4,223 have actually been removed, in part because of delays caused by COVID-19 prevention measures.
2013 horse-meat-as-beef scandal showed lack of demand
The horse meat seizures in the Netherlands and Denmark, observed Patrick Sawer of The Telegraph, in London, England, “raised the specter of a repeat of the 2013 horse meat scandal, when traces of it were found in food products being sold as beef across Britain and Europe.”
At least 28 companies in 13 European nations plus Hong Kong were then involved in marketing horse meat as beef, French government investigators assessed in mid-February 2013.
Entrepreneurs seeking to resume horse slaughter in the U.S. had at that time argued for years that they could profitably market to an upscale clientele in nations including Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Japan, who would demand that horses were transported and killed humanely.
But the 2013 horse meat-as-beef scandal revealed just the opposite: by far the greater portion of the European horse meat trade, both then and now, involves the lowest priced meat products, in which the ingredients are most easily disguised, and about which consumers and regulators tend to ask the fewest questions.
“Beef lasagna” was 30% to 100% horse meat
The 2013 horse meat-as-beef scandal erupted when on January 15, 2013 the Food Safety Authority of Ireland disclosed that horse DNA had been found in burger products sold by major British and Irish supermarkets.
The British Food Standards Agency confirmed the finding, discovering that 29 of 2,401 products tested included at least 1% horse DNA.
Expanded testing soon found that some “beef lasagna” products contained from 30% to 100% horse meat.
Silvercrest Foods, headquartered in Ireland, recalled 10 million suspect burgers and other products including ground meat. Several other companies also recalled products.
Ireland was initially suspected to be the source of the horse meat sold as beef. But while the Irish horse slaughtering industry was involved, two other companies involved in the recalls, Findus and Aldi, blamed the French meat supplier Comigel.
Eastern European horse meat exports down 80%
Other companies pointed toward Romania and Poland, then exporting about 65,000 horses per year between them, chiefly horses retired from farm work and replaced by tractors. That longtime source of supply had diminished to about 13,000 horses by 2017, according to the United Nations Food & Agricultural organization.
The first three reported arrests for alleged fraud in connection with selling horse meat as beef came in Wales and Yorkshire on February 14, 2013. One of the men who were arrested was an employee of the Peter Boddy Licensed Slaughterhouse in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, reported purchaser of as many as 1,100 injured horses per year from racetracks.
The reputed kingpins of the clandestine horse meat traffic, however, were two Dutchmen, Jan Fasen and Willy Selten.
Reputed ringleader remained at large for six years
Fasen, reported Associated Press correspondent Toby Sterling, “was convicted on January 18, 2012 as the main suspect in a case where hundreds of thousands of kilograms of horsemeat or horsemeat mixed with beef were mislabeled as containing only beef and sold to two unnamed French buyers.”
Three Fasen-owned companies, Sterling wrote, “sourced cheap horse meat from Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, marked it up, and sold it on, in some cases certified as being halal beef slaughtered according to Muslim dietary laws. Fasen was sentenced to a year in prison for his role in the scam, which took place over two years in 2007-2009,” but renamed his businesses and kept going.
The Guardian reported that Fasen admitted selling horse meat to the French firm Spanghero, identified by French consumer affairs minister Benoit Hamon as the first “agent” in the scandal to have marketed horse meat as beef.
24 more busts followed sentencing of first perp
While Spanghero denied mislabeling horse meat, “French authorities found that Spanghero had profited to the tune of more than $660,000 over six months by marketing the cheap horse meat as much more expensive beef,” the Guardian said.
Convicted in France of related offenses in absentia and sentenced to serve two years in prison, Fasen remained at large until his July 2019 arrest in Calpe, Alcante, Spain.
Willy Selten, meanwhile, the first person involved in the case to actually serve prison time, was on April 7, 2015 sentenced by a Dutch court to serve 30 months in prison for selling 300 metric tons of horse meat as beef.
His sentencing immediately preceded the April 24, 2015 coordinated arrests of 26 other traffickers in seven European nations who allegedly also sold horse meat as beef.
The arrests underscored the reality that horse meat as such was––and is––no longer a high-end commodity.
Cruel crime of opportunity
All said and done, the May 2020 seizures of horse meat disguised as beef in the Netherlands and Denmark appear to have resulted from a cruel crime of opportunity, not as harbingers of a horse meat industry in revival.
A comparable cause came to light on May 11, 2020 in Bell, Florida, reported James J. Rowe of WCJB News in Gainesville, Florida, after “23 horses were rescued from an illegal slaughtering farm in South Florida after deputies investigated the property owned by suspect Manuel Coto.
“According to the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office,” Rowe recounted, “a complaint saying a horse was in distress and couldn’t get up, as well as buzzards and horse bones scattered across the ground, led to deputies investigating the property.
“There they found 24 horses, one of whom was the horse whose condition led to the initial complaint, who had to be euthanized on-site.”