SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — The USDA said it will increase inspections of imported beef, in the midst of a horsemeat scandal in Europe. So far, none of the tainted products have made it to the United States. But the scandal is renewing efforts to ban American horse slaughter.
Dr. Scott Stanley is helping to keep the horse racing industry clean. He runs a lab at UC Davis that analyzes horses’ blood to detect doping. “What we do is similar to what they do for a sports athlete,” he said.
Abuse of a horse tranquilizer called Phenylbutazone is very common. “They are given medications that are totally inappropriate to be used in animals that are meant for food,” Stanley said.
Phenylbutazone is banned for human consumption because it can cause a deadly blood disorder. He has also found antibiotics in horses. “Some people can have allergic reactions to antibiotics. That is why we don’t use them in food animals,” said Dr. Stanley.
Yet race horses routinely end up on dinner plates in Europe. Despite our own state laws against slaughter, even California horses are at risk.
A recent KPIX 5 investigation found race horses dumped at auction, where they can end up in the hands of kill buyers. From there, they are trucked to processing plants in Canada and Mexico.
Where does the meat go? Tests in 27 European countries found horse DNA in 5 percent of frozen entrees made with beef, such as lasagna and meatballs. Some samples also contained traces of phenylbutazone.
“The food is tainted, the meat is tainted, it’s dangerous,” actress and animal activist Bo Derek told KPIX 5. Derek sits on the state’s horse racing board, and routinely rules on doping investigations.
“It’s a business that because of betting has huge financial incentives to take an edge and to get ahead. So there will always be those Lance Armstrongs,” Derek said.
Derek, who was appointed to the board by former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, convinced fellow members this month to support a proposed law called the SAFE Act (.pdf) banning domestic horse slaughter as well as the export of U.S. horses for slaughter.
“It’s offensive to us and I think 80 percent of the American people agree. Horses in this country have never been bred as livestock,” said Derek.
Yet even some within the horse racing industry support horse slaughter, such as radio talk show host and trainer Roger Stein. “It’s a necessary evil,” Stein said.
Stein breeds horses on his farm in Stockton. “I have a stallion, who breeds upwards of 25 mares per year,” he said.
Three racehorses from the farm recently showed up on the block at an auction house in Turlock.
Stein claims he knew nothing about it but said, “The truth is, what do you with them if they can’t race?”
“There’s a very real need for the disposal of horses that are no longer any chance of being an asset. They are liabilities,”Stein said.
Derek disagrees. “Our industry and our horse owners have been able to bear this burden of either caring for the horse for the rest of its life or giving it a peaceful painless death through euthanasia. Slaughter is not a humane alternative, ever,” she said.
For Stanley, it’s simple. “Because of the medications that are routinely used I wouldn’t eat horsemeat, not from the United States,” he said.
The proposed ban on horse slaughter comes at a time when several meat processors in the U.S. are petitioning the USDA to slaughter horses again, for the first time since 2007. The meat would only be used for export, but critics said its just one more opportunity for the domestic food supply to become tainted.
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