SALT LAKE CITY — Jacob Anderegg is a Lehi lawmaker who has watched many of his Utah County neighbors struggle to care for their horses in tough economic times.
"If you have to make a choice to feed your family or your horse, should government stand in the way?"
Anderegg, a Republican, said the options of what to do with unwanted horses are slim across the country and he wants his colleagues on the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee to be briefed in their Wednesday afternoon meeting about what is legal, and what isn't, in Utah.
"The main purpose is to have a discussion and bring it before the committee to have an open dialogue and a discussion of the salient points," he said.
Horses can be legally slaughtered in Utah for pet food, for example, but the Utah Department of Agriculture said it knows of no rendering plant that would take a horse for pet food because there simply isn't a market.
Anderegg said it is illegal to bury a horse on your own property. It is much different than burying a small pet, and for someone with a lot of horses, many burials over time could cause groundwater contamination. Euthanasia and disposal can cost several hundred dollars, he said.
At least three states in the country are moving toward the reopening of slaughterhouse doors after a de facto ban on the practice was lifted with funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections. The plants would process horse meat for shipment to overseas markets.
As it stands, horses sold at "sale pens" throughout Utah can ultimately end up in Canada or Mexico to be slaughtered for dinner plates overseas.
Anderegg said buyers transport them in double-decker trailers, sometimes crammed in such abysmal conditions that some of them arrive at the plant already dead.
Other horse owners faced with escalating hay prices have turned their animals loose on the range, said Gus Warr, Utah's overseer of the Bureau of Land Management's Wild Horse & Burro program.
"We find them deceased on the range many times. They don't know how to forage, how to survive."
Warr said often, the horses ended up being captured in periodic roundups the agency conducts. Last year, a roundup in Utah of 150 animals netted seven domesticated horses.
"People ask us how we know," he said. "When you can walk out to them and put a halter on them, they're domesticated."