The Public Has it Wrong
Published: 21 January 2011
Every week here at the Roundup, our first concern is to get the story right on any issue that may come up, and to sort through the customary versions and rumors, which can happen with any issue that is important to us.
We’ve all heard that we as producers need to tell our story about safe food, animal welfare and public lands issues. Some of those issues run high on the emotional scale with the American public, and we need to be extra careful with how they are presented.
At the recent Summit of the Horse conference in Las Vegas, Nev., those who attended were privileged to hear a broad list of speakers addressing both domestic and feral horses in the U.S. We agree it was a timely conference, and, addressing horses, it tended to bring out the emotions both of those attending and of those who read about it. We applaud those who initiated and developed the conference, but the wrong story came out in the press – one that was not intended by either the speakers or audience.
First, I was not there in person, but I did read some press after the conference and also an opinion from a Wyoming columnist. All of the stories and the opinion piece that I read talked about horse slaughter and wild horses in the same sentence, and that is not the story we want.
Horse slaughter is a worthy topic, and one that 99 percent of the American public doesn’t recognize the need for, or understand. In this modern day, Americans will never eat horsemeat, so I’m not sure we should ask for that, but rather we need to decide whether it’s all right to slaughter horses and send the meat to another country. At one time Americans did consume horsemeat, and it was even served in one of the Harvard dining rooms. We’ve all heard stories about how horsemeat was all there was to be had on the large, early century horse ranches around Wyoming, such as the CBC, but that doesn’t happen in today’s world.
At the conference, one of the speakers was BLM Director Robert Abby from Washington, D.C., who addressed wild horses. Even if the public doesn’t have them in their pastures, they still have an opinion about them. Most Americans think they are just great and we should have more of them.
The Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act is one of the few laws voted for by every member and passed by Congress. It is a law based on emotions and misunderstanding, and it has made life difficult for many public lands ranchers in the West. One has no idea the trouble that these feral horses can cause. I’ve been there, and I know and I realize how sensitive one has to be when speaking about them. I was almost strung up in Washington, D.C. when speaking to some environmentalists and mentioning that I thought wild feral horses look better in a tin can. This was right after the audience had agreed it was ok to kill feral pigs that were destroying habitat in a state park in Hawaii. I couldn’t see much difference.
I learned right there that we all have to be careful how we present the issue. We all learn from our mistakes.