A Modern Proposal: Eating Horses to Cure Overpopulation in America

When I read Caty Enders’ article, “Why you really should (but really can’t) eat horsemeat,” I could not help but think of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” In response to the overpopulation in Ireland during the 1700s, Swift proposes that one-year old children should, “instead of being a charge upon their parents or the parish, or wanting food and raiment for the rest of their lives, they shall on the contrary contribute to the feeding, and partly to the clothing, of many thousands.”¹ When put in perspective, the idea of eating children in order to solve the problem of overpopulation is ludicrous, which it was meant to be as “A Modest Proposal” is a satire and points to the greater causes of overpopulation.

Many Americans consider eating horses just as ridiculous, but why? One reason, which Enders addresses, is speciesism. Americans are appalled at the idea of eating horses because they have a sentiment attached to this species. Horses are a symbol of the pioneering spirit of America. Americans do not have qualms over eating meat. It is only certain types of meat that are socially acceptable, such as cattle. In 2014, the total beef consumption in the United States was 24.1 billion pounds.²

Horses were “re-introduced to the Americas beginning with Columbus’ second trip to the New World in 1493.”³ Horses had lived in North America before, but “died out between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago.”4 Although it is difficult to determine with certainty the cause for prehistoric horses becoming extinct in North America, a leading possibility is over-hunting by humans.5 If prehistoric horses were killed off by humans, the current proposal to eat horses may mirror history in which the result was overkill. Horses can be considered a native species because they had lived in North America before the Spaniards brought over horses. But horses can also be an invasive species because they were re-introduced to North America by the Spaniards. If the cause for prehistoric horse extinction was humans, would this wrong be fixed by people bringing horses to North America?

The ecosystem works by having checks and balances on populations of species. When prey species become over-abundant, predator species can keep them in check. Wild horses have predators such as coyotes and mountain lions, but these predators often focus on foals.6, 7 Even then, foal kills are considered uncommon because horses are large mammals with powerful legs that are further protected by living in herds.

There are laws in place to protect and control the population of wild horses. One objective of wild horse population is control is to protect the environment. If we are so desirous to protect the environment, why are there no laws to control the population of people?

Although there are not enough predators to check the population of wild horses, another check for population growth is resources. Ender’s article makes it seem like wild horses dying from starvation due to depleted resources is unnatural and should be prevented by human intervention. It is natural for populations to decline when resources have been depleted. Why do people think they should be puppet masters of nature?

  1. Swift, Jonathon. “A Modest Proposal.” Accessed on February 27, 2016, http://art-bin.com/art/omodest.html.
  2. “Statistics & Information.” United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Accessed February 27, 2016, http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/animal-products/cattle-beef/statistics-information.aspx.
  3. E. K. Conant, R. Juras and E. G. Cothran. “A microsatellite analysis of five Colonial Spanish horse populations of the southeastern United States.” Animal Genetics (2012). Accessed February 27, 2016, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2052.2011.02210.x
  4. Jay F. Kirkpatrick and Patricia M. Fazio. “The Surprising History of America’s Wild Horses.” Live Science (2008). Accessed on February 27, 2016, http://www.livescience.com/9589-surprising-history-america-wild-horses.html.
  5. Paul L. Koch and Anthony D. Barnosky. “Late Quaternary Extinctions: State of the Debate.” Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics (2006). Accessed February 27, 2016,  http://ecolsys.annualreviews/10.2307/annurev.ecolsys.34.011802.300.
  6. Joel Berger and Rebecca Rudman. “Predation and Interactions between Coyotes and Feral Horse Foals.” Journal of Mammalogy (1985). Accessed on February 27, 2016, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1381261.
  7. John W. Turner Jr., Michael L. Wolfe, and Jay F. Kirkpatrick. “Seasonal mountain lion predation on a feral horse population.” The Southwestern Nationalist (2001). Accessed February 27, 2016, http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/pdf/10.1139/z92-132.