Open Letter from John Holland ~ President of Equine Welfare Alliance
“We must continue to work toward a federal law to remove equines from the food chain forever…”
Dear EWA member,
President of the Equine Welfare Alliance ~ John Holland
I like to take this opportunity each year to let you know what we think we can expect in the New Year. First, there is no doubt that 2014 was the year of the horse and there is a very real potential for 2015 to mark the end of the slaughter of US horses! The two big developments were, as you know, the inspections defunding and the EU ban on Mexican horse meat derived largely from US horses.
Last year at this time, we were facing the threat of up to four horse slaughter houses opening in the US, but I told you that it was not going to happen. I knew that to be true because Victoria McCullough and Joseph Abruzzo had kept us informed for months on the progress of the spending bill, but for obvious reasons we could not disclose anything until it was a done deal. We also told you that defunding would last through at least the 2015 budget, which it has.
In last year’s message, I also said that I thought Blair Dunn (attorney for Valley Meats) knew that his client’s dream of opening a horse slaughter house in New Mexico was fading fast and that some of the strange statements he had made in the press were merely posturing to position his client to sue for damages over being delayed.
Shortly thereafter Mr. Dunn sent me an email threatening to sue me for liable over that statement. I now realize that I was mistaken, and that Mr. Dunn was neither as knowledgeable nor as clever as I had assumed him to be and that my speculation that his posturing was a result of either quality was totally unfounded. I wish to take this opportunity to apologize for that error.
If there are any doubts that D’Allende Meats, the latest incarnation of Valley Meats, is destined to meet a similar fate, consider this. Even if inspections funding was to be restored, and even if they got a discharge permit, and even if the USDA gave them a grant of inspection (all unlikely in the near future), the USDA itself is not certified to inspect for the EU and they would have very limited market opportunities. Worse, the EU is now aware that the US has no system of traceability on drugs administered to horses and their ban on Mexican horse meat was as much about US horses as it was about Mexican slaughter.
The EU ban on Mexican horse meat
Finally, the EU has listened and taken action banning the import of US horse meat from Mexico, albeit a decade after first being contacted about serious food safety and humane issues.
While inspections funding and the lack of discharge permits kept the US plants from opening, the announcement from the EU that they would not accept horse meat from Mexico after 1/15/2015 has several impacts. It should drive down Mexican slaughter of our horses, and it is a fantastic card to play in the politics of Washington and elsewhere.
As we all know, Mexico has customers for its horse meat other than the EU. So we all wanted to know what percentage of their horse meat goes to non-EU countries. We are very fortunate to have great researchers who prefer to avoid the limelight. One obtained records of all horse meat sent by ship, and just recently the other was able to navigate the labyrinthine web sites of the Mexican government and obtain the totals for sea and air exports.
We found that only about 22% of their total recent exports have been going to non-EU countries. The largest is Russia with about 13.2% (When we had only the seaborne trade numbers, this number looked like about 6.6%). Interestingly, the next largest customer is Vietnam with 6.2%. This was a surprise and is almost identical to the percentage that France had been importing. Switzerland is next with about 5.3%.
There has been a lot of speculation about China, but they accounted for less than 1%, though Hong Kong was taking about 4%.
We expect that Mexico will be forced to drop its prices to attract more customers if they hope to make up their shortfall. We have found that Canadian plants like Natural Valley lost money for several years before throwing in the towel, so it may take a while to know what their new business model will look like. Meanwhile, we will track the exports and find ways to warn the remaining foreign consumers of what the EU/FVO found in their audits.
The next shoe to drop will be Canada. There is speculation that horse meat from Canada may also be banned, though there is a possibility that they will impose astrict 6 month quarantine. Quarantine would, however, not bring Canada up to the standards the EU places on its member country suppliers since some drugs (e.g. phenylbutazone) are banned from ever being given to a food animal. All of these measures will at the very least make the business much less profitable, and if anything less than a ban is imposed, we must expect the cheating that has been the rule with the EIDs (Equine Identification Documents) to continue.
Is the horse slaughter battle over?
No, we cannot assume that it is over, but with the strategic use of a powerful public relations firm to get the facts and the EU’s decision into the media,this may well be the beginning of the end. Now is the best possible time for slaughter to end as I explained in my recent article in New Zealand Horse Talk magazine.
We will be watching the number of horses going to Mexico closely, as well as Mexico’s exports of horse meat. We must also continue to work toward a federal law to remove equines from the food chain forever.
What can we expect from the pro-slaughter side?
We think that we can expect the pro-slaughter folks to go back to their play book of spreading stories about how the sky is falling without horse slaughter. When the US plants were closed in 2007, they started a campaign to publicize stories of abandonment and neglect.
In 2007 advocates undertook a major research project, fact checking every story in every state and found every article was either a complete fabrication or a mammoth distortion. We published a document called “Deleting the Fiction” (see also the full report) in which we documented what we found and the sources we used. I have to say, the Associated Press was the worst offender. Then as now, they seem totally unwilling to review or retract stories even when they are proven to be completely false. This tells us that we need to have powerful help with our media operations.
Most shockingly, the slaughter supporters even managed to get a deliberately distorted report out of the GAO that misrepresented data out of Colorado to supposedly prove that abuse had gone up 60% after the plants closed. So it would be a mistake to underestimate their reach.
Interestingly, the entire strategy of claiming severe unintended consequences backfired because it deals with equine welfare, not food safety, the issue of most concern to the EU. Even so, it has been their strategy for so long that they will likely continue to use it. We should all watch for these stories and check them out. If they are false, we need to have our PR machine respond quickly to get the facts into major news outlets.
I can say that 2015 promises to be an exciting year, and we intend to work harder than ever. The successes of the past year were not the exclusive work of one group or another. They were the result of all of us all working together. Keep up the great work.
And sadly we must go forward without one of the most effective legislators ever to champion animal welfare, Jim Moran. We all owe him a debt of gratitude and wish him the best in his retirement.
In closing, let me paraphrase what Chris Hedges said about fascists. We don’t fight horse slaughter because we think we will win. We fight horse slaughter because it is horse slaughter. In the end we will win this fight because we will accept no other outcome.
Happy New Year,
John Holland, President
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