European Disease Affects Slaughter Industry

Concerns over mad cow disease and the resurgence of foot and mouth disease in Europe has had a devastating effect on the European beef cattle industry, and has brought about an increased demand for horse meat. Mad cow disease has created fears that have reduced beef consumption, while foot and mouth disease has resulted in a decrease in the number of cattle and sheep available for human consumption.

Animals suspected of foot and mouth disease, as well as others in the immediate vicinity, have been slaughtered, with the carcasses being burned or buried. Horses, on the other hand, do not contract foot and mouth disease and are not believed to be carriers of mad cow disease.

Jim Weems of Texas, formerly a spokesman for three of the U.S. horse slaughter plants and now involved with a company that exports beef products, put it this way concerning the meat market in Europe: "Horse meat is in high demand. Pork is moving well. The demand for chicken is going through the roof. Beef is dead."

While the demand for horse meat has increased, production has not gone up appreciably. The reason is simple, says Weems: There just aren't many horses available for slaughter.

According to figures from the United States Department of Agriculture, there has been a marked decrease in the annual slaughter of horses at U.S. plants during the past 10 years. In 1989, for example, some 348,000 horses were slaughtered, compared to 72,000 in 1998. The U.S. plants would be slaughtering more to meet the increased demand if the horses were available, Weems said.

Claude Bouvray, of Bouvray Exports Calgary LTD, whose family owns slaughter plants in Alberta and Quebec and feedlots in Shelby, Mont., and Fort Macleod, Alberta, agrees with Weems' assessment. His plants have increased production by about 5%, but that appears to be the maximum level because of horse availability. The Fort MacLeod plant was slaughtering about 1,300 horses weekly prior to the increased demand. Bouvray said that the increased demand has come from Europe, with the Japanese market remaining unchanged.

Geert DeWulf, manager of the Dallas Crown slaughter plant in Kauffman, Texas, said it appears that increased European demand has peaked and is returning to normal levels.

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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