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YouTube video of horse slaughter inflames debate over horse meat

March 23, 2013|By John M. Glionna

For activists, the video is not only an animal execution on tape, it’s a public challenge.

The clip, posted on YouTube, shows an employee of a southeastern New Mexico slaughterhouse — a business that is seeking federal approval to slaughter horses — shooting a colt between the eyes with a .45-caliber handgun after he taunts activists who have opposed reintroducing horse slaughter in the U.S.

Then Tim Sappington walks away from the downed horse, looking into the camera and saying, “Good.”

The killing took place last year on Sappington’s property, and sparked broader protest after his daughter posted the 50-second video online this week. The video has prompted death threats to the Roswell-based Valley Meat Co., where Sappington has worked maintenance.

“They’ve been threatened — every activist in the world has threatened the company at one time or another,” Chaves County Sheriff Rob Coon told the Los Angeles Times.

The state Livestock Board executed a search warrant Thursday at Sappington’s home.

“Officers found the hide of the horse as well as the rope he used to lead it to the place it was shot,” Coon told The Times. “Sappington told us, ‘I’ve processed the horse. I’ve got it in my freezer. People who come here know what they’re eating.'"

The incident follows proposed federal legislation that would ban the export of American horses for slaughter, reinstitute a ban on slaughtering them in the U.S., and protect the public from consuming “toxic” horse meat.

The measure, called the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, came partially in response to revelations that horse meat has been mislabeled as beef in Europe, including in Ikea meatballs.

Sponsors include Sens. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Reps. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). The bill would outlaw the killing of American horses for human consumption and prohibit transporting the animals across the U.S. border for slaughter in Mexico or  Canada.

Proponents of the bill contend that tens of thousands of American horses a year are exported for slaughter in a foreign industry that produces unsafe food for consumers.

A federal ban on slaughtering horses in the U.S. took effect in 2006, but the law lapsed in 2011, opening the door for the New Mexico company to open a slaughterhouse there soon.

Sappington’s employer, Valley Meat Company, has announced plans to reintroduce horse slaughter in New Mexico and has processed an application with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA earlier this month said that, since the ban has been lifted, it has no choice legally but to move forward with the application of Valley Meat and several other companies.

Sappington’s video shows the cowboy-hat-wearing New Mexican leading the horse out of its pen, past a trailer to an open area. He pets the animal, challenges activists and then drops the animal with one shot between the eyes. Sappington told investigators that he bought the black and brown 2-year-old colt with the intention of slaughtering it.

“He said the meat from colts is more tender,” Coon said. “He said it’s better eating.”

Coon said the video had the feel of an execution on film.

“People are going ballistic over this and I am too,” he told The Times. “It was poor judgment putting this thing online. I guess he wanted to make a statement. He says he wishes he’d never done it, but he did it.”

Coon said it’s not illegal to slaughter your own horse. He said he did not believe that the act amounted to animal cruelty because Sappington consumed the meat. “I have to say that if you’re going to kill a horse, that’s the humane way to do it. He shot it right between the eyes -- unfortunately, he did it on camera. Poor old horse didn’t know what was fixing to happen.”

The sheriff told The Times that some in the rural county see horses as livestock.

“Horse meat is not my forte — I’ve never had it,” he said. “But to many it’s no different than buying a cow, killing it and butchering it yourself.”

The federal government could decide as early as next month whether to give Valley Meat a license to kill horses, and Coon said he’s wary of the public protest if a new slaughterhouse opens in his county.

“If they open that plant,” he told The Times, “we’re gonna have our hands full.”

john.glionna@latimes.com

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