Utah Wild Horses Still
Being Sent to Slaughter
Monday, January 1, 2001
BY CHRISTOPHER SMITH
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
One of every 10 wild horses killed at three big U.S.
slaughterhouses in 1999 was adopted from Utah, newly released federal
Adopters of wild horses sign agreements that they do
not intend to use the horses for commercial purposes or sell them to
a slaughterhouse. But logs maintained by the meatpacking
plants -- two in Texas and one in Nebraska (*see below) -- show nearly 300 federally protected mustangs
were processed into meat and pet food in 1999, the most recent year data
were available. Most of the wild horses slaughtered at the plants were
less than 6 years old and were killed within months of owners' receiving
title to them. Of the 300 mustangs slaughtered at the three plants, 35
carried "freeze-brand" markings indicating they were adopted
from Utah herds. The names of 33 Utah residents holding title to
slaughtered wild horses also are included in the partial records, released
by the Bureau of Land Management under the Freedom of Information Act
animal-rights groups that have sued the federal agency twice over failure
to protect the horses as Congress intended.
The Fund for Animals and the Animal Protection
Institute of America have gone to federal court in Reno, Nev., charging
that the BLM is failing to prosecute people who adopt wild horses only to
sell them to slaughterhouses.
U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben has given
the BLM until Jan. 28 to document how many wild horses it adopted out have
been slaughtered since 1998 and how many of those cases have been
recommended for prosecution. Thousands of domesticated horses are butchered annually
at slaughterhouses. Fears of mad cow disease in Europe have fueled a rise
in price for exported U.S. horse meat overseas. But wild horse advocates have argued that Congress
never intended the "living legends of the West" to be sold to
slaughterhouses just months after adoption and wind up as the featured
entree at a Belgian cafe.
"If a horse is old, lame or infirm, the humane
thing to do is have a professional euthanize the animal and then the
remains go to a rendering plant," said Andrea Lococo,
Rocky Mountain coordinator for the Fund for Animals. "These wild
horses were given a special designation by Congress, and we don't believe
Congress ever intended them to be sent to slaughter."
Thus far in the legal battle, McKibben has agreed with
that interpretation of the law and has twice ordered the BLM to take steps
to prevent adopters from routinely selling horses for commercial purposes
shortly after taking title. "The problem is not nearly acute as it was a
number of years ago," McKibben said during a Nov. 29 court
hearing. However, he said, "it does appear to me that the BLM has
been somewhat reluctant in moving quickly."
An adopter who signs the standard adoption maintenance
agreement and the application for title and then sells the mustang to a
slaughterhouse could be prosecuted under the federal False Claims Act with
a class D felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000
fine. The so-called attestation language in the agreements
was part of a 1997 settlement of the second suit brought by wild horse
advocates against the BLM. At the time, McKibben ordered the BLM to change
all forms to include an attestation that "I
hereby state that I have no intent to sell this wild horse or burro for
slaughter or bucking stock, or for processing into commercial
During the Nov. 29 court hearing, U.S. Justice
Department attorneys representing the BLM said that all agency offices
have been using the new adoption and title forms with the attestation
language since April 1998. The agency checks the name of every potential
adopter with a database of past violations, such as adopted horses winding
up at slaughterhouses. "The adoption procedures . . . do well indicate
to the BLM through its database whether there are any offenders or whether
there are any problems with people who repeatedly adopt horses," said
Justice Department attorney Lyn Jacobs. "That is certainly
something that has been addressed by the BLM."
The slaughterhouse logs tell a different story. Some Utahans
whose wild horses wind up at slaughterhouses are regularly adopting more
horses. "I've adopted several of them," said Wade
Jensen of Cleveland in Emery County, who took title to a BLM wild
horse he adopted in January 1999. The horse was slaughtered eight months
later at Central Nebraska Packing in North Platte, Neb. "I've never sold one to a slaughterhouse. I
don't know where they go when I sell one," Jensen told The Salt
Lake Tribune. "When I adopt them they are my property to do with
what I please. I've never broken the law."
There is no indication that any Utah adopter has ever
been prosecuted for selling a wild horse that wound up butchered for meat
products. BLM officials have said they view the court-ordered
attestation language as a "gray area" of law.
"Adopters now sign an agreement that says it's
not their intent to sell the horse for slaughter, but it's not clear just
how long that signed agreement is intended to last," BLM Wild
Horse Program Director Tom Pagacnik told The Tribune in October 1999,
shortly after the agency announced that 575 mustangs wound up in
slaughterhouses in the first year after the tougher requirements.
Wild horse advocates, however, charge that the BLM is
ignoring the routine trafficking of adopted young, healthy mustangs being
sold at auction or sale yards and shipped to packing plants. "Adopters have to be pretty naive not to know
these animals are being purchased by buyers for slaughter," said
Lococo of the Fund for Animals. "These people sign a federal
agreement to provide humane care to these horses for the rest of their
lives, and they have the opportunity to return the animals back to the BLM
before they apply for title."
Slaughterhouse logs show most mustangs going to
slaughter were titled to adopters only weeks or months earlier. In two
cases of Utah adopters found in the logs, the horses were butchered a week
before the BLM titled the horses to the adopters. Five wild horses adopted
by Charles Riddle of Fairview in Sanpete County were slaughtered at
the same time, with three of the horses titled to Riddle just six months
earlier. Riddle could not be reached by The Tribune.
McKibben said he is most concerned by the BLM's
inability to prevent people from adopting more mustangs when the horses
they have previously adopted wound up at slaughterhouses. "It's one thing to say we didn't know what
their intent was originally," he said. "But if they
signed the document indicating that they wouldn't slaughter the horse, and
then they slaughtered the horse and you have that in your databank, and
notwithstanding that you went ahead and allowed them to take a horse
again, that would be extremely troubling."
McKibben said there is no proof of repeated abuses by
adopters before his court, and federal attorneys maintain that the
information they have been told to provide the judge in January also will
show no discrepancies.
"There's no evidence that there are continuing
problems with the wild horse program," said Jacobs.
But Lococo said the slaughterhouse logs directly
contradict such assertions. "There is no excuse for the BLM not to be
investigating the circumstances of why these horses are being carted off
to slaughter just weeks after adopters receive title," she said. "All
they need to do is prosecute a few of these people and that will
dramatically reduce this problem."