4/22/05 HORSES: Buyer LIED to BLM!
WASHINGTON — Six wild horses the government sold last week on a promise their new owner would provide humane care were slaughtered Monday for their meat, federal officials confirmed.
The animals were the first to be reported slaughtered after Congress removed restrictions in the fall on the sale of older wild horses and horses that are difficult to place for adoption.
Bureau of Land Management officials notified Congress on Thursday and said the federal agency had begun to investigate.
News of the slaughter was sobering to wild horse advocates and members of Congress who had warned it was only a matter of time before horses would turn up dead under relaxed sales rules that were intended to reduce herds in government care.
The BLM has estimated 8,400 horses need to be sold to comply with the law.
"The person who did it posed as a youth minister and indicated he was going to use the horses to build the character of younger individuals," Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said after being briefed by the BLM.
"No sooner than he got the horses, he drove them straight to slaughter," Whitfield said. The horses were sold April 15 and were slaughtered on Monday, the BLM said.
BLM spokeswoman Celia Boddington said the horses sold for $50 a head after the buyer signed a bill of sale agreeing to provide humane care. However, the bill of sale contained no legally binding language.
Boddington declined to provide the buyer's name, citing privacy concerns.
"We absolutely regret this and are disappointed by this action," Boddington said. "Once sold, federal law defines horses as private property. We do take steps to ensure the horses are placed in long-term care."
The BLM said it has sold 2,000 horses under the new authority granted by Congress. The agency has announced some of its sales, including placements with Indian tribes in South Dakota and North Dakota and with a sanctuary in California.
Boddington said not all transactions are being announced.
"We are unable to publicize every single sale," she said.
BLM officials could not say Thursday where the horses had originated or what holding facility they had been sold from. But more than one-half of the wild horses in the West are captured in Nevada.
Boddington told The Associated Press that the six wild horses were sold to an Oklahoma man.
The horses in turn were sold to Cavel International, a Belgian-owned company which operates a slaughterhouse in DeKalb. Ill., a company manager acknowledged Thursday.
General Manager James Tucker said the seller provided BLM paperwork showing ownership and the transaction was legal.
"I understand people who think of horses as pets," Tucker said. "On the other hand, there's a lot of people who see the animals as livestock and an appropriate method of disposing the animal is slaughter."
Tucker declined to say how much Cavel paid for the animals. He said a typical 1,000-pound horse yields about 600 pounds of meat that fetches $282 at 47 cents a pound.
Cavel ships horsemeat to be sold in European countries where it is packaged as food, Tucker said.
"There are a few people that don't like the idea, but a lot believe it is a way of producing food and recycling the resource," Tucker said.
Horse advocates immediately called on the BLM to impose a moratorium on its sale program until the agency crafts regulations governing the sales.
"This could have been 600 horses instead of six," said Trina Bellak, president and founder of the American Horse Defense Fund. "It's very sad, but it's what we've been fearing."
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., who wrote the legislation authorizing new sales, said he was sorry to learn the animals were destroyed.
"The man who purchased these horses from the BLM lied and said they were for a church youth group," Burns said. "I continue to believe the program is working, as nearly 2,000 horses now have new homes and people to care for them, but it's a shame that six didn't make it."
||Las Vegas Review Journal