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Guardian’s Wild Horse Meat Story Contains 92% Beef

Photo by Jennifer Maharry

Rated: F

Article Review:

"Why You Really Should (But Really Can't) Eat Horse Meat"

the Guardian  -  Jan 09, 2015


Michael Moss’ powerful New York Times’ investigation into the United States Department of Agriculture’s Meat Animal Research Center (“U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer In Quest For Profit”) predictably outraged readers. The collective angst came not just because of the center’s ghoulish and inept experimentation; not just because the research animals suffered to boost profits in the livestock industry; but because the public learned that taxpayers had footed the bill — and had been doing so — for fifty years.

Compare that discovery to the recent media attention given to a very similar program, one involving even more animals, conducted to boost livestock industry profits, costing even more taxpayer dollars, and degrading millions of acres of public rangelands in the American West: The Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burros Program (WHB).

The news media regularly covers this program. Articles about wild horses appear daily, in fact. So why is the public incensed over the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Meat Animal Research Center while the WHB program goes ignored?

The difference is in the reporting. Coverage of the Meat Animal Research Center (which we review here) was initiated by government whistleblowers within the research facility. An experienced investigative reporter subsequently spent a year researching the claims, largely through Freedom of Information Act requests. Federal and corporate perspectives were handled with appropriate suspicion.

Coverage of the WHB program, on the other hand, is typically sourced almost entirely from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the industries benefiting economically from wild horse roundups: notably, private ranchers holding public grazing permits (though mining and energy development companies profit, too).

If Moss, in his reporting on the Meat Animal Research Center, had turned to the USDA’s web site and livestock producers to ask about doing research to boost industry profits, would anyone ever know about “easy-care sheep” and lambs left to perish in rainstorms courtesy of unknowing taxpayers? Of course not.

But coverage of the WHB program was dominated by those groups making money off it. David Philipps’ New York Times article (“As Wild Horses Overrun the West, Ranchers Fear Land Will Be Gobbled Up,” critiqued here) and Caty Enders’ Guardian piece (“Why You Really Should, But Really Can’t, Eat Horsemeat”) are two cases in point.

Non-industry sources comprise less than 8 percent of the articles’ collective text. The other 92 percent is all industry boilerplate. Enders’ loyalty to the ranchers’ perspective even creeps into her word choices. Notably, she uses rancher lingo to refer to wild horses, calling them “feral.” Her point of view is clear, and it’s 92% bull.

This kind of source bias would be understandable coming from a reporter for a beef industry trade publication. But Enders is a reporter for a major media outlet.

An over-reliance on federal and industry sources is problematic not just for animals, but for the consumers who eat them (and care about their welfare). Enders’ piece notably fails to answer the two questions posed in her own headline: a) why you should eat horse meat, and b) why you can’t.

One reason why you can’t eat horse meat is that some states ban it outright. The larger reason is that Congress passed an amendment banning inspections in horse slaughter plants, preventing them from opening. These facts are well documented in the media, as this January 17, 2014 NPR article exemplifies.

A bipartisan majority supported this amendment because the drugs horses routinely take are banned in food animals. Furthermore, there is no proper system in place to track these drugs, making it impossible to keep tainted horse meat out of the food chain. As a reporter, Enders should have known these facts. And reported them.

Enders’ suggestion that wild horses would be suitable alternatives is equally misinformed. For one thing, wild horses in BLM holding facilities are wormed and vaccinated (therefore not free of drugs banned in meat animals). For another, Congress prohibits the slaughter of wild horses. As a reporter, Enders should have known that, too.

Why did she not? Simple: industry, whom she relied on for her reporting, doesn’t offer this information. The only place you’ll learn about the intricacies of horse slaughter (and wild horse round-ups) is from advocacy groups: the very people Enders and Philipps gave one word of text to for every eleven it handed to ranchers and the BLM.

rapa das bestas photo_Getty_Miguel RiopaAgain, sources matter. Consider, as a final point, the dramatic photo in Enders’ piece showing wild horses fighting, one with its teeth bared and the caption, “Overcrowding on the frontiers of the American west could lead to a depletion of natural resources for wild horses.”

The photo confirms the article’s bias. The problem is that it doesn’t depict wild horses fighting over depleted natural resources in the American West at all. Rather, it was taken in Sabucedo, Spain during a 400-year-old “horse festival” called rapa das bestas, a macabre ritual in which wild horses are driven down from the mountains, wrestled to the ground to have their manes and tails trimmed, and “corralled into a village where they face aloitadores or fighters in this man vs. animal challenge – minus weapons, just bare hands and hooves.”

There’s a reason why complex topics — such as Moss’ investigation into the Meat Animal Research Center and wild horses rounded up by the BLM — require thoughtful digging and reporting. The alternative — an easy reliance on self-interested federal and industry sources — keeps the public in the dark about the inept, incomprehensible and inhumane things that the government is doing with its money. Journalists should not be abetting that corruption. They should be exposing it.

About Vickery Eckhoff (16 Articles)
Vickery Eckhoff is the co-founder and executive editor of The Daily Pitchfork. Her articles on wild horses, public lands grazing and the meat industry have been published in Forbes, the Huffington Post, Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Alternet and Salon.
Contact: Website

17 Comments on Guardian’s Wild Horse Meat Story Contains 92% Beef

  1. John T. Maher // January 27, 2015 at 11:57 am // Reply

    Rather good Chomsky-esque deconstruction of the article by quantified analysis 1:11 ratio is actually quite the norm I would think. Remember, the beloved Guardian of the neo left is a multinational business which takes ad revenue from Aldi the huge Irish supermarket which seems to trade in horse meat while being either aware or not aware but certainly complicit in terms of failure to monitor suppliers and hammering costs down to provide the incentive to cheat. As for the BLM, t is a disgrace (easy label to apply here). Back to journalists and their complicity of which this site seeks a critical reappraisal: many journos never leave their desks and suffer from secondary source reliance, lack of time, lack of a travel budget especially for freelancers, the need to process too much info into a manageable form and wordcount, and normalized expectations from their editors which is really a sort of fear of deviation and marginalization. Certainly the occasionally phlegmatic writers at the Guardian, and the industry complicit writers who repeat BLM website nonsense, fall into that category. Great image check on the Spanish horse fighting photo.

  2. Nancy Watson // January 27, 2015 at 12:33 pm // Reply

    Excellent article, you never disappoint Vickery. Thank you for calling out Enders and that ridiculous article suggesting that our American icons should be eaten. Maybe she will suggest we eat bald headed eagles too. She conveniently left out the fact that horses are native to North America, reporting only that they were reintroduced. Her article drove home the idea that if you repeat a lie, people will start to believe it. Unless you are close to to the truth, as a horse advocate, you would never know the truth.

  3. Mary Finelli // January 27, 2015 at 1:14 pm // Reply

    Great analysis! I hope you’ve shared it with The New York Times and The Guardian. They should share it with their readers, who deserve to know.

  4. Shane Destry // January 27, 2015 at 3:05 pm // Reply

    As always an excellent article Vickery. Not only are sources of objectivity regarding the plight of our wild horses lacking as you point out, but the original premise of the BLM: the myth of overpopulation was not challenged sufficiently and unanimously by
    wild horse advocates themselves. A journalist is aware more than most that the public learns of an issue through many filters including how the question is framed. When it is allowed to be framed by BLM interests it has proved disastrous. the question “wild horses are overpopulating therefore which is the lesser of two evils round-up or sterilization through PZP ?” should never have been framed at all until the challenge was first made :”wait a minute, what is the proof of overpopulation at all touted by the BLM ?” In this manner the BLM succeeded in getting the collaboration of some wild horse advocates who now push PZP in confirming a false premise, one never empirically established: overpopulation. It is to be noted that the BLM has not slowed down its roundup of wild horses on the promise that PZP will help obviate their need – although use of PZP has been going on now for fourteen years.

  5. Thank you, again Vickery, for showing us the truth.

    I’d like to highlight that the more horrible it is, the more intense the secrecy. How can symbols of our country be rounded up like pests from sacred Shoshone aboriginal land and sustain horrific treatment on their way to cruel slaughter. For other countries’ plates

  6. Finally, an article with facts ! Tired of reading fiction !!!

  7. Great article Vickery, once again telling it like it is. To correct one of the comments on this article, PZP is not a sterilant – it is a reversible vaccine and unless applied repeatedly does not sterilize mares. The BLM is making very little use of this vaccine which has successfully controlled wild horse populations on eastern barrier islands for years. The question is not whether there is an over-population of wild horses. There is NOT. “Overpopulation” is the term used by the BLM to describe herd areas where population exceeds their artificially derived Appropriate Management Levels arrived at in most part by designating 83% of forage to livestock and only 17% to wild horses and other wildlife. Going back to basics, the size of the herds are limited by livestock grazing and reduced herd areas designated by the BLM. In 1971 over 53 million acres were designated as wild horse herd areas. Now, the BLM manages around 26 million acres.
    In a perfect world no one would recommend PZP for wild horses but we live in a far from perfect world and are part of a political system that is far from fair. In a system that only values economic growth (livestock grazing, energy development) not the natural habitat and environment all you have to do is follow the money to understand how things work. In a perfect world there would be enough predators to keep all wildlife species populations in balance – but predators are destroyed to protect the “invasive species” livestock.

    PZP is not a silver bullet – but it is a tool to slow population growth until legislation and regulations can be changed to increase Appropriate Management Levels, to decrease grazing and increase land allocated for wild horses. Until that time, PZP may help ground the helicopters and prevent the BLM from taking much more drastic measures by creating “non-reproducing herds” through ovariectomies and gelding – measures which are proposed for Saylor HMA in Idaho, White Mountain HMA in Wyoming and many others.

    We believe that the goal for BLM in all herds should be to try to balance mortality
    and reproduction with on the range management, and to set AMLs that allow for
    genetic viability (i.e. plus 150 adult animals as a minimum). Many believe that it is better not to be born than to endure the horror of a helicopter stampede and

  8. Phyllis Neel // January 27, 2015 at 3:46 pm // Reply

    This is a well done article full of facts. I would like to see more like this article. Education and knowledge is important. Thank you Vickery for an informative article.

  9. Lisa LeBlanc // January 27, 2015 at 4:13 pm // Reply

    Semi-interesting tidbit:
    Read an article recently about how horse owners will blithely follow their vet’s advice, and over-immunize those horses at the vet’s direction (an immunization, by it’s very nature, should provide protection for a lifetime or require a booster, say, every decade.)
    Further research indicates that most immunizations for large animals contain the preservative Thimerosal – an organomercury compound.
    Mercury is an infinite resource because it can be neither created nor destroyed; it just moves around a lot.
    And so remains in the body of a domestic horse from injection to beyond the animal’s demise.
    Another reason why NOT consuming horse meat should be a no-brainer.
    But that’s not the point. The point is even mere laymen – those of us willing to do the research and the legwork in order to present a factual, realistic portrait of those causes that move us – know the truth MATTERS.
    It seems a tad shameful that – with respect to the Michael Moss article – the most important components for an article in a major publication are the execution of the ‘pithy phrase’, with little or no facts to back it up.
    Animal advocacy is already constricted by the notion that compassion and ethics are moral weaknesses. Give me a well-researched, verifiable load of news I can use, written by people willing to risk expulsion by a ‘major publication’ for toes stepped upon. Perhaps it’s simple laziness on my part, but I’d rather not have to wonder if what I’m reading is tripe.

  10. Linda Arndt DVM // January 27, 2015 at 5:14 pm // Reply

    Great article, please keep it up.

  11. Vickery I went off my voluntary beef boycott last week to make what I thought would be a great dinner. I couldn’t even eat three bites! And that was maybe 1/2 of a serving size wise. I thought maybe it was the way I cooked it so I tried again. NOPE! Second time I couldn’t even palet I meatball!

    What I learned from this? I AM PERMANENTLY OFF RED MEAT FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE! What’s more I don’t miss it! What started as anger from a Judge in NV several years ago–that boycott lasted about 6 months. Then a couple years ago there was a really bad animal abuse case against a fast food restaurant. Just a couple months later came the massive horsemeat scandal. The horsemeat scandal started my boycott then it became a step to the boycotting till the ranchers learn to share.

    This time since I felt so sick I’m done! I like cows as a species. I like some ranchers as individuals. But I don’t like the mentality that the Cattle Association has.

    Thank you for all your enlightening articles. You have helped me to see my way when I know what I want but have not had the words…

  12. Great artile. We all see ‘Where’s the Beef?” on this one. The book to read is “The Wild Horse Conspiracy” which identifies the misinformation that has put forth to the media and agencies about the damage that wild horses and burros have done to the environment. The carbib footprint and environmental damage from the cattle is far worse than the wild horse and burro populations. Not to mention the land-grabbing mining industry which is hell bent on destroying every inch of open land for drilling and fracking. The BLM and Fish and Wildlife Services have misrepresented and mismanaged many species and allowed species to be eradicated with much less rationale. What we have to understand is this delicate balance in the ecologies of this world. These shifts cause changes that may take years to manifest and may not be able to be reversed.

  13. The BLM and (welfare) ranchers have been trying to get rid of wild horses & burro’s .They treat them like rodents.
    Cow’s out number WHB 50-1
    2) ranchers pay 1/15 for land rent compared to anyone else.
    3) They are subsidized over $500 million a year by government= taxpayers.
    4) WHB only get 35% of what they are supposed to have.
    5) BLM is in charge of wildlife also and they don’t seem to be able to handle that either.
    6) If WHB were out on land allocated to them and proper head management with PZP they would cost very little to nothing. Gelding stallion’s will not work either that just leave’s more mare’s that another stallion can cover.
    Gelded stallions become like barnyard horses very lazy.

  14. I absolutely love your blog and find a lot of your post’s to be just what I’m looking for. can you offer guest writers to write content for you personally? I wouldn’t mind writing a post or elaborating on a number of the subjects you write with regards to here. Again, awesome weblog!

  15. As always you nailed it Vickery. Thanks again for shining the light on this dark subject.

4 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Guardian’s Wild Horse Meat Story Contains 92% Beef | Habitat For Horses
  2. Guardian’s Wild Horse Meat Story Contains 92% Beef | Straight from the Horse's Heart
  3. Wild Horse Chase At The Daily Pitchfork |
  4. Guardian’s Wild Horse Meat Story Contains 92% Bull | The PPJ Gazette

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