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Will New York Times correct errors in Dec. 2, 2014 carriage horse story?

December 5, 2014

Vickery Eckhoff

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My December 4 letter to New York Times reporter, Jim Dwyer, seeking correction:

Dear Mr. Dwyer,

I read your article about the DeBlasio plan to end the carriage trade in New York City
(“Carriage Horse Proposal’s Effects Might Not Be As Good as Its Intentions”) with great interest, especially the aspects relating to the closure of horse slaughter plants, a topic I’ve spent the last three years researching and writing about for the national news media (Forbes, Newsweek/Daily Beast, Huffington Post) as well as a 25-chapter book proposal and movie script (now nearing completion) on the same subject.

The following underlined and bolded portions of your article’s statement about the GAO report and what it found about abuse and neglect, unfortunately, are incorrect:

The United States effectively banned slaughter of horses at the end of 2006, according to a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office, but the story took some bad turns. “Horse welfare in the United States has generally declined since 2007,” the report found, citing increased abandonment and reports of neglect. Abandoned, abused and neglected horses present challenges for state and local governments, tribes and animal welfare organizations.”

The slaughter plants did not effectively close in 2006. They closed their doors in 2007. As the GAO’s June 2011 report itself states on page 1 (“What GAO Found”): “Since domestic horse slaughter ceased in 2007…”

For further proof, please see article from the Kaufman Herald, where Dallas Crown, one of the last three operating US horse slaughter plants, shut its doors.

KaufmanHerald_slaughter plant closing

The last three US slaughterhouses for horses closed  in 2007, not 2006, as so much of the news media has falsely reported.

The article “Dallas Crown sends workers home” is dated March 28, 2007. This is the same day that US Federal District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly held that the slaughter of horses in America violated Federal law. ( see story here).

BelTex (Fort Worth), also closed in 2007 as did Cavel, the third plant (in Dekalb, IL), which operated until the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a lower court’s earlier decision on the constitutionality of a state law banning the practice of horse slaughter. This happened on September 21, 2007. Cavel’s appeal was denied and its temporary injunction to operate was revoked, making it the last US horse slaughter plant to close — again, in 2007. (see story here).

The abuse and neglect you cited from the GAO report, like the claim that the plants “effectively shut” in 2006, has been widely misreported in the news media, particularly by the Associated Press, which I contacted when they made the same false claims. (AP now uses the correct date of plants effetively closing in 2007 and has dropped the correlation with rising abuse and neglect).

Abuse and neglect went up while slaughter plants operated. Abuse and neglect rates, as stated in a study by the Equine Welfare Alliance, are most closely correlated by the increase in hay prices.

Abuse and neglect rates reported in a 2011 GAO report went up while slaughter plants operated. Abuse and neglect rates since the closing of the slaughter plants are most closely correlated with rising cost of hay, as shown in a peer-reviewed study by the Equine Welfare Alliance.

The reason is that the rising rates of abuse and neglect cited by GAO do not correlate with a 2007 plant closing date. Look at the chart. Here, you see ten years of data (only five years of which are referenced in the GAO report…2005-2009). You’ll see that for six different states, abuse and neglect rates rise during the entire time period that the plants remained operating. In Colorado, whose data the GAO singled out, you’ll see clearly that rising abuse and neglect rates are correlated with the years that the plans remained OPEN — not when they closed, as your article falsely claims.

The source of the data is state veterinarians. If you would like a more complete analysis of it, please see this document.

The report was prepared by the Equine Welfare Alliance. You can look at the methodology of collection and analysis. I have gone through it and find it accurately analyzes the data that your article (and other news organizations) got wrong. The longer story here is whether or not the news media should believe a small equine welfare organization, or the AP and the GAO. As one who has spent the last three years studying this topic, I can tell you that the EWA has got this right; the AP got it wrong. I don’t say that without having spent a lot of time looking at both sides and speaking extensively with AP editors, notably Traci Carl, and standards editor, Thomas Kent. And, as I mentioned earlier, the AP, beginning in January of 2014, has corrected itself, using the correct date of closing (2007) and dropping all references to the GAO and abuse and neglect. The New York Times should do the same.

Specifically, please print a correction to your story stating that abuse and neglect rose while slaughter plants operated and turned downward after their closing. As a further note, you might want to consider retracting your related statement of “an earlier example of good intentions with horses that went awry.”

I applaud you for looking at the carriage horse situation, but to compare finding homes for 200 horses to those that ended up abused and slaughtered back when these plants operated is a false parallel.

Thank you for your time and concern. Please reach out to me with any questions. I would be happy to provide further information to you and the editors of The New York Times to substantiate any and all of the above.

Very sincerely yours,

Vickery Eckhoff

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6 Comments

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  1. December 7, 2014

    As always, Vickery, you are right on target. Let us know if you receive a response.

  2. December 7, 2014

    well stated Vickery….and agree..let us know if there is a response.

  3. December 7, 2014

    Vickery – So is it negligence or willfully repeating false information? WIll the media ever get it right?: I would have expected better reporting from NYT. Thank you Vickery for doing your best to keep the truth!

    • December 7, 2014

      It is a form of negligence that is easy to understand. The topic is complex; reporters just getting into it don’t know the subject’s twisted history and its support by government agencies influenced by ranching and agribusiness. It’s easy for them to latch on to the words of other journalists (and the GAO, which has put out many trustworthy reports, which the one on horse slaughter clearly wasn’t), which is why false information spreads so quickly when put out by trusted media. But I will change my mind on that if the NYT reporter fails to correct based on the information I have sent him, which is conclusive. Waiting to hear back. Thanks for all comments!

  4. December 7, 2014

    Thanks for clarifying this important issue. Incorrect data has been circulating for too long, and it is to the detriment of our American horses.The rates of neglect and abuse are absolutely directly related to the price of hay, something the GAO report didn’t even address.

  5. Janet Schultz #
    December 7, 2014

    It is so important that citizens have the facts. Because is only then that thoughtful decisions can be made. Journalists of Vickery Eckhoff’s calibre understand this very important, vital, role of news papers.

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