“My mother always said that horses are one step away from being worthless. Their only value is their meat.” — Janine Jacques
Randy Musick is 70 years old, and he’s spent most of his life delivering horses to slaughterhouses.
“I started with five or six [horses] at a time, and that turned into fifty at a time, and before long, I was moving hundreds,” Musick told me over the phone from his home in South Dakota. “Through the years, it just kept growing and growing and growing.”
Musick was what you’d call a “kill buyer”—someone who visits livestock auctions around the country and buys horses specifically for their meat. It’s hard to find horse on menus in the United States, but it’s a delicacy in places like France, Belgium, and Japan (where it’s often eaten raw, as sashimi).
Musick’s operation bought up live horses, then had them butchered, packaged, and sent off to market. He made a good living like this until 2007, when the government got involved.
At that time, there were three major horse slaughterhouses in the United States—two in Texas and one in Illinois. Between the three slaughterhouses, about 90,000 horses were processed for meat in 2006. But in January 2007, a federal appeals court ruled that horse slaughter was illegal in Texas; later that year, the governor of Illinois signed a bill banning horse slaughter in the state. As a result, the last remaining plants in the United States were shuttered, and horse slaughter was effectively ushered out of the country.
But that hasn’t curbed the industry. Today, kill buyers take their product across the borders to meat-processing plants in Mexico and Canada to get around domestic red tape and statewide bans. 150,000 horses are still taken from the US and slaughtered every year, according to statistics from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The federal government is hoping to change that: A bill called the Safeguard American Foods Exports Act is currently being debated in the Committee of Energy and Commerce, and, if passed, it will stand as the first federal prohibition on the sale and transportation of horse meat. That would mean no more kill buying, no more long trips to Canada or Mexico for processing, and an end to the industry without moving it back stateside.
Musick, who is no longer in the business of buying and selling horse meat, said conditions for horses have worsened significantly since the industry became all export. Back when horse slaughter was legal in Texas, he told me he’d “buy the horses and send them out to Fort Worth, Texas, where they’d be butchered the next day.” Now, he said, “they’re hauling them to Canada and Mexico, where they’re spending twice as much time on the truck. We didn’t want to abuse the animals—they were our property. We didn’t want them all bruised up. We wanted to take care of them. Now, they’re traveling two thousand miles to a plant in Mexico.”