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Strays strain DOL

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Horses not worth the meat on their bones are forcing state livestock officials to adjust a decades-old policy that will help them deal with an influx of abandoned equines.

The banning of horse slaughter in Illinois, Texas and several other states shut down the domestic killing floors for so-called “unwanted horses” in 2007. That same year, the number of animals sold at auctions and shipped abroad for slaughter in Mexico and Canada spiked by 312 percent. Meanwhile, feed prices soared—along with fuel—and the value of horsemeat on the North American market plummeted with the increased supply coming out of the United States.

The domestic effect is palpable, as the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) reports seeing a staggering number of horses just left to stray—something that has never happened before. The problem is so extensive, says DOL spokesman Steve Merritt, the agency recently asked the Montana Legislature to relieve it of the expensive requirement of posting stray horse notices in local newspapers.

“It’s costing us a ton of money,” Merritt says. “Even if there was a horse market, we would still come out behind. We’re estimating this would save about $500 per horse.”

The bill, introduced by Sen. John Esp, R-Big Timber, passed the Senate Jan. 22 and now sits before the House Agriculture Committee. As drafted, it would allow the DOL to post stray notices on the agency’s website and the local county sheriff’s website, and also knock the statutory requirement that the notices remain up for 30 days down to 10 days.

The Montana Newspaper Association (MNA), an industry group representing all 90 state dailies and weeklies (including the Independent), wants the bill language tweaked so that it can’t be interpreted as a change in notification requirements for all lost livestock—only horses. The organization also wants an amendment requiring at least a one-time notice in the local paper.

“We’re concerned that it allows them just to post it on the Internet,” says John Barrows, MNA’s director. “You would have to know that you were missing the animal to go to the website.”

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