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Yakama Nation Lauds Judge's Ruling in Horse Meat Litigation

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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 Lewis

The 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.