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There is a federal program to end wild horses, and your food choices may be supporting it. In the United States, the government has erased wild horses and burros from 40 percent of the public land that was supposed to be their sanctuary. In 1971, the Free-Roaming Horse and Burros Act was passed to protect these wild animals on designated, federal land. But the meat and dairy industry, which our government subsidizes, had other ideas.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a branch called Wildlife Services, funded by our tax dollars, that is dedicated to “managing” wildlife when it gets in the way of the meat and dairy industry’s profits. Wildlife Services is known for gunning down and poisoning coyotes – even pumping gas into their dens – along with other animals it considers “pests,” which leaves The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to deal with one of America’s living symbols of freedom: the wild horse.

Competing With Livestock

In the western United States, the cattle/livestock to wild horse ratio is clear: 50 to 1. This is thanks to the Bureau of Land Management’s controlling of wild-roaming horse and burro populations, which it does so frighteningly well, there is currently eight  times more “public” land rented by the government to cattle ranchers than allotted for wild horses.

How is this grotesque feat achieved? Government roundups. That’s right: wild horses, once considered – by Congress no less – to be “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West,” are frightened and chased by helicopters into stockpiling facilities, and go from mane-rippling freedom to nightmarish scenes of cramped captivity, separation from their families, branding with burning hot irons, and worse. The Bureau of Land Management then auctions the horses off, allegedly for “adoption,” and tragically, slaughterhouses are their most common “adopters.” Horse meat has a huge market in Canada, Mexico, and overseas, and in 2011, 85 percent of the horses slaughtered in a Canadian processing plant originated in the U.S.

While the government’s guise of “adoption” is a lovely ruse, it did not stop the BLM from selling over 1,700 horses to a known horse slaughterer from 2009-2012. That man, Tom Davis, is outspoken about his yen for killing horses, despite having signed contracts upon adopting the hundreds of horses (sight unseen) that they would be protected. “What is wrong with taking all those BLM horses they got all fat and shiny and setting up a kill plant?” he stated. The BLM investigated the matter halfheartedly after much resistance, and of course, found themselves not guilty. Tom Davis himself – who has been vocal about setting up a horse slaughterhouse in Colorado, unprosecuted by state authorities – claims they must have known, selling such a volume of horses to one person, what was going to happen to those horses.

How You Can Help 

As if we needed another reason to choose plant-based foods – to eschew animal cruelty; to lighten our environmental impact; for our health – if people choose to cut cow meat and dairy out of their lives, wild horses may benefit. The less we contribute to these industries, the less land cattle ranchers will need, and the less land our government will hand them. When making the switch to plant-based, sustainable foods, remember that any hesitation or frustration we may feel in the transition is nothing compared to the terror of wild horses as they’re shoved into hot (or freezing), cramped transport trucks and sent on their long, agonizing journey to slaughter. When we sit down for a meal, to paraphrase Kafka, may we be able to picture the few remaining wild horses in peace; we do not condone their demise any more.

To learn more about how to help wild horses, please see the American Wild Horse Preservation’s resources.

To help prevent Oregon from creating its own wild horse death camp, petition here.

Image source: Sam-Cat/Flickr