Ten Years and Tender Enough for the Butcher...
A month-old law allows the bureau to sell horses that are 10 years old or older, or that have been unsuccessfully offered for adoption three times, without the waiting period.
"We've got to get the number of animals down to appropriate management levels and keep them there, but do it in a way that doesn't bankrupt us," said U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Montana, who sponsored the amendment that changed the law.
Barb Flores, of Fort Collins, a board director for the American Mustang and Burro Association, said the Burns amendment could doom many of the auctioned animals.
"Horses can be purchased for a token and immediately sent to slaughter, ending up on restaurant tables in Europe and Japan," Flores said.
"...horse meat has morphed into a high-end fare of discerning European carnivores.
And some of the world's tastiest comes from the United States, where mustangs roam the range buffing up on nothing but grass, according to European horse butchers.
...Because it takes years for a horse to reach prime slaughter age, a hardship on a continent that lacks vast grasslands, European horse butchers seek stock from overseas, primarily Argentina, Australia, Canada and, increasingly, the United States.
A sign in Märki's shop reads "horse meat origin USA." Next to a logo of a prancing steed are the words "Dallas Crown, Inc. Texas, USA." Märki swears by the American stuff, which, he said, is lean and tastes great because of the animals' lifestyle.
'The Americans pretty much let them roam free. They eat nothing but grass -- not the kind of (expletive) you feed to pigs,' said Märki, who has cut horse meat for 43 years.
...Horse meat is special in another way.
'The older the horse, the more tender it is; it's the opposite of other meats,' said Jean-Claude Terraillon, proprietor of J.Cl. Terraillon, a Geneva horse meat wholesaler and retailer.
The optimal age for slaughter is between 10 and 15 years; the minimum, 7 years, Terraillon said.
Märki pays his Geneva wholesaler the equivalent of about $6.15 a pound for American horse meat. He sells more than 220 pounds per week retail for $10.80 to $11.60 a pound.
...Many of the horses slaughtered in Canada were American, including former race horses, according to "Le monde équestre," a Quebec horse lovers' Web site. Some meat ends up as dog food, zoo food or feed for animals raised for fur, according to the site.
...European horse butchers have no such worries about United States imports. 'They're wild horses,' said Märki, 'The taste (of their meat) is very, very good -- extra(ordinary).'
I wonder why Sen. Burn's rider, exterminating more than 30 years of wild horse protection, dictates unadopted horses 10 years or older to be auctioned off? Coincidence?
"In repealing the Wild and Free Ranging Horse and Burro Protection Act of 1971, the provision orders the BLM to sell its captured horses and -- in an irresistible lure to an agency whose costs have been rising at a rate of 45 percent -- to keep the profits.
But critics say the order ensures the slaughter of the equines.
Since hoof and mouth disease surfaced in 2001, demand for U.S. horse meat overseas has risen dramatically, and individual small ranchers with hope of adopting a horse say they can't compete with slaughterhouses in price.
There are three horse slaughterhouses in America: two in Texas, one in DeKalb, Ill. All are European-owned.
Ray Field, director of the Wild Horse Foundation of Franklin, Texas, is a neighbor. Field's WHF contracts with the BLM to adopt horses. His organization found homes for 880 horses and burros last year alone.
He accused the BLM, which is drowning under its soaring costs, of pushing for the change.
'Their adoption program is a mish-mash and their marketing sucks,' he said. 'But instead of saying, 'Your marketing sucks. You're fired.' They said, 'Let's kill us some horses.''
A high-ranking BLM manager agreed that the agency would save hundreds of thousands of dollars on boarding costs by selling the animals to what he called 'kill buyers' in lots.
The U.S. Humane Society Web site says 55,776 horses were slaughtered last year in the U.S. and thousands more transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter there. The meat is exported to Belgium, France, Italy, Japan and Switzerland, where it is considered a delicacy."