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At Vegas Summit, A Heated Discussion On Eating Horse Meat

In this 2005 file photo, the BLM uses helicopters to round up wild horses in Nevada. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In this 2005 file photo, the BLM uses helicopters to round up wild horses in Nevada.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

At the Southpoint Casino in Vegas, today, a political action organization is asking: Should the United States go back into the business of slaughtering and eating horse meat.

The United Organizations of the Horse, which organized the summit, thinks absolutely. But the practice has been illegal since 2007 in the United States. The AP reports that at the First Summit of the Horse, a central discussion was the way the Bureau of Land Management deals with wild horses in the West.

The BLM says that wild horses can overwhelm the environment, so sometimes they round horses up and store them. The AP quotes Sue Wallis, vice president of the United Horsemen, as saying that keeping feral horses amounts to public welfare:

"What's happening is we've taken a valuable asset and turned it into a very expensive liability," she said. "The United States will become like Europe, where only the very wealthy will be able to afford horses."

The AP adds that the BLM "spent $36.9 million in 2010 to feed and care for horses rounded up and confined in corrals."

U.S. Rep Charlie Stenholm, also at the summit, said the 2007 prohibition also costs the U.S. money in trade. The AP quotes him: "The Chinese are chomping at the bit to buy our horses. The Russians are chomping at the bit to buy our horses. Why can't we sell it to them?"

BLM chief Robert Abbey defended the anti-euthanasia practice saying the horses were part of America's heritage. "Make no mistake, they deserve to be treated the best way that we can treat them," he said.

Coincidently, today the Globe and Mail ran a lengthy food feature about eating horse meat. In Canada, despite recent uproar about the practice, horse meat is still eaten. (According the piece, 2,000 tons of it a year.)

In his ardent defense of horse meat as food, Mark Shatzker talked to Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and subject of last year's eponymous film. She argued a horse is no different than other animals Americans eat contently:

"Their brains are similar to pigs and cattle,” she said, “although they’re a bit more flighty. As long as you use the right equipment, it can be as humane as any other kind of slaughter. I don’t see any reason why a horse can’t lead a happy life and be slaughtered and not suffer.” The vast majority of welfare issues Dr. Grandin witnesses aren’t due to slaughter but to owner neglect. If given the choice between being a horse and a commodity pig or chicken, Dr. Grandin says, “I’d rather be the average horse.”

But in the end Shatzker comes down to one, simple conclusion about why Canada shouldn't ban horse meat and why you should eat it: "It's delicious," he writes.