Yakama Nation Lauds Judge's Ruling in Horse Meat Litigation

Harry Smiskin & Virgil Lewis

Chairman of the Tribal Council and Virgil Lewis, Chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Committee of the Yakama Nation, Toppenish, Washington, have issued the following statement:

We commend Chief Judge Christina Armijo of the Federal District Court of New Mexico for her ruling on Friday that will allow horse meat processing plants to reopen in the United States.

This is a common-sense ruling that puts aside both the completely emotional arguments of those opposed to the processing of horse meat as well as the disingenuous legal arguments of the Humane Society of the United States. HSUS argued that the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) needed to first issue an environmental impact statement when it directed its meat inspectors on how to do the best possible job and to ensure that horses were handled properly in a manner that complies with federal laws and regulations directing for the use of humane methods of slaughtering livestock.

Virgil LewisThe judge clearly debunked these illogical HSUS proposals. By law, horses are considered livestock and the longstanding regulations and laws of this country specifically allow for the processing of horsemeat and apply the Federal Meat Inspection Act to horses. The animal rights advocates behind this litigation contend that horse slaughter is inhumane under any circumstances but that is their opinion and not one that they should be allowed to foist on all Americans. Certainly, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is an authority whose professional members love animals and make their living working with animals but they are also called on to put horses down.

They categorize the use of the “captive bolt” – the method used by horse slaughter houses – as humane. HSUS is no longer an organization trying to help dogs and cats but has become an entity dominated by vegans who would close every meat processing facility in the US tomorrow if they could. So they spend millions of dollars a year in litigation and lobbying to try and bend the country to their views.

We find it remarkable that when HSUS first filed its suit in this case they had no American Indian plaintiffs listed. Only after the Yakama Nation intervened in the case did HSUS amend its complaint to list a number of Indians including some self-appointed “Chiefs” not one of whom is responsible for managing any tribally owned land. We did not intervene because we are pro-slaughter or to prove some ideological point about Indians and horses; this issue in Indian country is about protecting our lands for our people and for those yet unborn. We have over 12,000 feral horses on our reservation doing tremendous environmental damage to thousands of acres of land. We have hillsides and valleys that are totally denuded of all vegetation, including medicinal and cultural plants, due to overgrazing and trampling by feral horses.

Lands that were once plentiful with deer and elk now have none as the native species are being run off by this invasive species. Feral horse populations increase at a rate of between 18 to 25 percet every year, so this herd will double in four to five years and do even more damage. This is land that the US holds in trust for our people and which the federal government has a fiduciary responsibility to protect. The Yakama Nation has examined numerous ways of dealing with this onslaught and concluded that the only economically viable way is to take a large number to slaughter where they could be put down in a humane fashion while also providing an excellent source of low cholesterol protein to millions of people around the world who don’t share HSUS’ perspective.

We have to wonder who appointed HSUS as God to determine which animals it is okay for man to eat and which ones it is not? If HSUS thinks it can find a sanctuary willing to take 10,000 malnourished and undersized horses from our land, they are welcome to come and take them but since the horse sanctuaries and rescues that do exist are already turning away horses we are quite confident they will not take us up on that offer. They will instead carry forth their latest manipulative arguments which are a) that horses are full of dangerous drugs and b) that the whole situation can be resolved through equine birth control.

First of all, our horses have no drugs in their system as they are untouched by human hands. Secondly, the drug argument is belied by the fact that the drug most often cited by HSUS, phenylbutazone (Bute), has a half life of seven hours; by the fact that FSIS requires plants to have food safety plans that would address this matter and by the fact that FSIS staff inspect animals for such drugs and will not allow any tainted meat to reach the market. If American horses are all full of drugs how is it that that millions of Europeans and Asians routinely consume American origin horse meat without problem? Their proposed birth control involves darting horses which, in dealing with a herd of a few hundred horses might be viable but to dart thousands of mares on this large reservation every year is not going to be practical or remotely affordable.

And, even if completely successful, what do we do with thousands of existing horses that live for another two or three decades? Finally, HSUS’ preferred method of putting down a horse involves the hiring of veterinarians to inject the poison pentobarbital into horses and then hiring in backhoe operators to bury them. Not only would this costs hundreds of dollars per horse but to cull this herd sufficiently to stop the damage they are doing would result in large amounts of this poison seeping into our groundwater from buried horse carcasses, clearly something we as land owners cannot allow. We hope the Congress and the courts will examine this issue rationally, scientifically and legally as did Judge Armijo and leave the law alone. If individuals view their horses as pets and have the luxury of allowing them to die naturally, or to be put down by a vet, than is certainly their prerogative and we would never suggest anything that would interfere with that right. Animal rights activists need to examine their zealotry and extend to us the same deference.

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Two Bears Growling's picture
You cannot reason with these insane groups. These insane groups cannot reason with the truth because it exposes them for what they are: EVIL! To try & reason with these sorts takes either a bigger fool or a more ignorant one. Such as these will never win again the evil & insane groups of this world. To argue with a fool makes one an even bigger fool.................
Two Bears Growling
Anonymous's picture
The Good people will keep on spending money to fight horse slaughter so the issue will not be over until the will of 80% of Americans is acted on and the slaughter horse and shipping of poisonous horse meat is banned.
Anonymous's picture
First, horses are NOT livestock. As someone who has trained horses and raised livestock, Mr. Lewis and whoever wants to classify horses and cattle together have never worked with them. To briefly explain: livestock can not survive in the wild, they have a mass mentality; while a calf can be made more personable (a "pet") when it is grown, it becomes part of the herd. Yes, individual cows and bulls have a few individual traits. Cattle can NOT be trained, or have a sense of responsibility to one or more humans; horse can and DO, as is easily proven throughout history. No cattle can be made a team - oxen, yes. Horses - like humans and dogs - can learn and teach each other and work in teams or individually. You will never teach nor breed a cow or bull to be a Lippizaner performer, nor to ride into a human's battle or to herd other animals. Good luck riding one. There is a difference in consciousness. You can call that whatever you like. And I am not a vegan, so find a different catch-all. How much are you getting paid by the meat packers? You also apparently have no idea what a "captive bolt" is or does. What you're saying is that it is "humane" to be super-shock tasered to death, like people in "No Country for Old Men." As to your quote, " We have to wonder who appointed HSUS as God to determine which animals it is okay for man to eat and which ones it is not ." Excuse me, Mr. Lewis, I strongly suggest you go back and read REAL American history, find an original, unabridged copy of "The Return of the Native" (James Fennimore Cooper, author) for starters - the Englishmen were here hunting 'natives' whose male parts were a delicacy for European royalty. Yes, you read that right - when The People were still considered "sub-human" they were, literally, 'fair game.' The European royalty considered Native male parts an aphrodisiac. For back up, or authenticating "just a story," then go through the archives of trade records, both here and in Europe, particularly England and Germany. When The People were nothing but Redskins, it was more than bounty proof they wanted. There are MANY things in European archives they don't want known in today's world and hide by "academic clearance only." So, Mr. Lewis and 1st Peoples supporters of horse slaughter for human consumption remember the dictum: if you don't know and remember your history, history repeats itself.
chahta ohoyo's picture
dear 'anonymous'...thank you for the 'rant'....horses are 'livestock'...do we keep them in our homes or back yards as pets...i think not...americans in particular have a mental mindset to baby animals they see as 'helpless', from kittens, to deer, to mountain lions, to horses...this is ridi culous..there are plenty of horse owners who would fall on their knees and thank god that there was a place for their horses they can no longer AFFORD to 'baby' and FEED to be humanely disposed of instead of abandoning them alongside highways as they do here in tx. apaches would ride a horse or mule until it dropped, then eat it to keep surviving...and, there are MILLIONS of people on this planet who find it nutritious and tasty... and, what in the hell good are the thousands of scraggly, stunted, misbred 'wild' horses in this country doing running 'free' on native american acreage...they cant really be rehabilitated in useful animals because they are small, scraggly, and generally mean...
chahta ohoyo
Anonymous's picture
As horse breeders, trainers, and showers, my wife and I have a deep respect and understanding for the desire to provide every horse with a full life and peaceful death. We have done our best over the years to assure this for our animals. We also have seen the dark side of horse country and will attest to the need for humane slaughter of animals who cannot or will not be cared for properly. As we have seen, prohibiting slaughter in the US does not prevent slaughter, it only forces it into countries where the US has no control over the standards and procedures by which it is done. I often wonder if those opposing humane slaughter have witnessed the pain and agony of natural death, particularly in the wild. It is not pretty and it is far from humane. It is a scientific certainty that the feral horse population on the Yakama Reservation eventually will exceed its forage base; widespread famine, disease, and starvation will follow. Given the choice between an agonizing death and a quick bolt in a facility regulated to maintain humane treatment, any responsible horse owner knows what he or she would do. The Humane Society should know better, as well.
Anonymous's picture
The majority of people in the US and NM oppose horse slaughter so I am not sure who you speak on behalf of. Horse slaughter plants in the US were closed for a number of reasons including environmental, equine welfare, and criminal violations and nothing has changed. The USDA even recognizes the dangers of horse meat to our food supply and foreign consumers and have included the following in the FY 2014 budget that defunds horse meat inspections.The below language is on page 197 of the Department of Agriculture Appendix. SEC. 725. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to pay the salaries or expenses of personnel to-(1) inspect horses under section 3 of the Federal Meat Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. 603); (2) inspect horses under section 903 of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (7 U.S.C. 1901 note; Public Law 104127); or (3) implement or enforce section 352.19 of title 9, Code of Federal Regulations. You talk about feral horses and many of those who support horse slaughter claim that these horses have been dumped on Indian lands. If that is the case, then there isn't any way you can guarantee that they are drug free. Also, what are the other uses and their impacts of the lands you are referring to? FYI - Bute is a permanently banned substance in food animals. That means no withdrawal period and that is one of several hundred permanently banned substances in food animals that are routinely given to horses. Horses in the US are not regulated or raised as food animals in the US and are routinely given drugs, chemicals and treatments that are permanently banned substances in food animals. Reopening horse slaughter plants in the US when the USDA has less funding is only going to adversely affect the inspection of foods that Americans do eat. It would be insane for our leaders and legislators to ignore the environmental, food safety, equine welfare and criminal violations inherent in the horse slaughter industry simply to provide a convenient disposal of horses.
heathersr's picture
I applaud the Yakama Nation's strong stance on the legalization of horse slaughter plants in the U.S. I have seen firsthand the damage done to water, plant, and wildlife resource caused by horse herds on the Yakama Reservation. By focusing on the lives of individual horses, animal advocates are ignoring the lives of wildlife, who are threatened by habitat loss resulting from the overpopulation of these beautiful, but destructive and non-native, animals. Horses congregate in meadows and other sensitive habitats where they pull up and eat traditionally used plants by their roots. Often they are then replaced by non native plants. Horse hooves cause widespread soil damage during the wet months and damage ponds and other wetlands used by wildlife. The manure left behind ends up in streams reducing water quality effecting fish, amphibians, and insects. The exponential increase in the feral horse population is a massive cultural and ecological threat. As a biologist, animal lover, and vegetarian I personally choose not to participate in the consumption of meat or to otherwise promote the meat industry, but I still strongly believe that culling the horse population on this Reservation and elsewhere is the only economically viable solution to removing this non-native species and eliminating its threat to native species. I have also seen the videos of slaughter plants in Mexico and elsewhere out of the country, ones that are made for cows not horses. The pain and suffering they cause these horses is horrific. If the production of horse meat is the only way to address unsustainable horse populations, which I strongly believe it is, then slaughter houses designed specifically for horses and regulated in the U.S. is absolutely necessary to reduce suffering. Lastly, no citizen of this country, despite their opinion on this issue, has any right, legal or otherwise, to enforce those opinions on any tribal government when it comes to managing and using their own resources. As a sovereign nation, the Yakama Nation has the right to protect their cultural, ecological, and economic resources and this right should be upheld by the federal government. No state or non-profit, such as the Humane Society, has any right to enforce their own laws or beliefs on a federally recognized Indian tribe. This issue needs to be moved forward utilizing facts, not emotions and ignorance.
Anonymous's picture
Horses are classified by the FDA as companion animals. Just go to the FDA website and do a search for non-food. Click on the slide presentation for EffectivenessEvaluationNonFood. Please note the second slide.