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Originally published December 19, 2012 at 8:38 PM | Page modified December 19, 2012 at 9:24 PM

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Snohomish County Council bans slaughter of horses for food

Moving to pre-empt the revival of slaughter houses that kill horses for food, the Snohomish County Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to ban the practice.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The Snohomish County Council voted unanimously Wednesday to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption — pre-empting any effort to reinstate the controversial practice anywhere within its jurisdiction.

The council's action followed impassioned testimony from both sides. It comes about a year after the federal government reinstated inspections of horse-slaughter facilities, making it possible, after a five-year hiatus, for horses to be killed in this country for food.

While not widely consumed in the U.S., horse meat is eaten in parts of Europe, South America and Asia. Under federal law, inspections of slaughterhouses where horses are killed are mandatory, and when funding for those inspections ended in 2007 it essentially ended horse-slaughtering operations in the U.S.

The Snohomish County ordinance, introduced by Councilman Dave Somers and backed by a broad coalition of animal rescuers and advocates, was aimed at preventing the revival of horse slaughtering at Florence Packing, a company located just outside Stanwood.

Owner Wayne Lindahl slaughtered horses at his facility for more than two decades until 1992. These days, he ships an average of 2,000 live horses a year to a Canadian slaughterhouse, Bouvry Export. Bouvry in turn ships horse meat to markets around the world.

Allen Warren, founder of the equine sanctuary Horse Harbor Foundation in Kitsap County, said he was told by sources inside Bouvry that the Canadian company had planned to reopen horse slaughtering at the Florence facility now that federal inspections have been allowed to resume.

Florence's proximity to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, he said, made it ideal for shipping to an expanding Asian market. Florence also is the only facility in the state where slaughtering could begin almost right away, without requiring the kind of approvals, including environmental, that would be required for a newer facility.

Animal advocates said they also found out through a Freedom of Information Act request that Bouvry had requested a permit from the Food and Safety Inspection Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to slaughter horses in this country, although a representative of Bouvry said he could not confirm that.

Given what they say they've learned, Warren said, "We connected the dots."

In addition to pre-empting such facilities in Snohomish County, Warren and other animal advocates are working to ensure that funding for inspections is stripped from the federal agricultural appropriations bill, essentially prohibiting horse slaughtering once again.

Florence's owner, Lindahl, said that despite the persistent rumors he has no plans to restart his slaughterhouse and is not in talks to sell his buildings.

He's running a stripped-down operation, he said. "We have no refrigeration, no equipment. It's been like that since 1992. I'm done with this business; I plan to retire by the end of next summer."

He said, "What the horse people don't understand is that there's no place for these horses when they're not being used anymore. We're not taking saddle horses and sending them for slaughter. They are older or ex-bucking horses."

Animal advocates point out that most of the horses sent to slaughter are not old, but are healthy. They also maintain that slaughtering is not humane but cited an inspector's testimony before Congress in 2008 that horses often are conscious during the killing process.

Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association, which voiced strong opposition to the ban, said there's a need for a slaughter system in this state that has strong state and federal inspection and oversight.

It's important, he said, that decision makers not allow "emotion to cloud science and good judgment on this issue. You mention horses and people think of these great majestic animals with their mane and tail blowing in the wind."

But that's different from reality, he said. "What they don't see are the horses dumped on public or private lands by people who can no longer afford to manage and maintain them.

"Where's the science that drives this decision?"

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @turnbullL.

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