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Bill crucial to stopping illicit trade in horse meat

March 5, 2010

by Neil Clarkson

Horses on an illegal slaughter farm eating garbage before being killed.

Authorities raided a slaughter farm too late to save these horses.

A Florida bill which would make the slaughter of any horse in the state a felony offence would be a major help in shutting down a thriving black market trade in horse meat, a campaigner says.

Richard "Kudo" Couto has been campaigning against the dozens of illegal slaughter farms operating in South Florida, with horse meat being the most profitable line for the backyard butchers.

The industry is fuelled by high demand from South Florida residents of Cuban descent.

Couto, who founded the Animal Recovery Mission, said the bill, which is making its way through committee stages in the state legislature, would make a huge difference to efforts to shut down the illegal slaughter farms.

The proposed law would make butchering a horse a third-degree felony, carrying a minimum of a year in prison and a fine of up to $US3500.

The bill received impetus following the slaughter of more than 20 stolen pet horses last year centred on Miami-Dade County, with the butchered remains often left dumped on rural roadsides.

"With the slaughter farms, butchering illegally, they way they get around the law is that when are caught butchering a horse, they say, 'it is our horse and we are butchering it for the meat to feed our family'.

"At the moment in Florida, it is legal to butcher your own horse to feed your family.

"That is how all these people are getting around the law right now," Couto says. "When you leave, or the police leave, the meat goes straight on the black market."

Couto said a prosecution was really only possible at the moment if he obtained video footage of the slaughter and butchering or a horse, and the meat being sold to outside buyers. "It is almost impossible," he says.

Under the new proposed law, all that would be required was footage of the slaughtering of the horse.

These horses were seized during a raid of an illegal slaughter farm.
Couto was instrumental in convincing authorities to launch a multi-agency raid last December on the C-9 Basin, a wetland area in Miami-Dade County notorious for its illegal slaughter farms.

The area is not zoned for human habitation and farming, meaning virtually all structures and farming activities in the basin are illegal.

The raids focused on the worst 22 of an estimated 70 slaughter farms operating in the basin, with operators cited for multiple infringements, ranging from illegal slaughtering and animal cruelty to theft of utilities and zoning violations. Many of the properties raided had their water and electricity turned off.

Couto said he understood a group formed through the District Attorney's office continued to check every week or so to ensure utilities had not been reconnected.

He believed that many of the illegal structures in the basin would probably be torn down in coming months.

Faced with no power and water, and under the regular scrutiny of officials, most of the animals were gone from the basin. He estimated 90 per cent of the horses formerly in the basin had either been sold at auction, relocated, or were slaughtered and not replaced.

However, Couto said many of the operators were simply relocating to other rural areas to continue their illicit slaughter operations.

He said he intended exposing fresh areas and farms where the trade was flourishing.

Couto said the C-9 Basin operation had thrown the book at the operators, but none of the agencies had rescued any animals.

He said animal welfare groups around the United States had been in contact with him over taking rescued animals - some were even raising money to do so - but to date the agencies were not prepared to seized animals.



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