The compelling horse health news story for the end of 2014 and continuing into 2015 is the tragic death of horses in the southeastern United States. While horses in Florida have been determined to be victims of contaminated horse feed, the South Carolina horses are still under investigation.
Today we have follow-ups on both situations.
News has been flowing since more than 20 horses died at a boarding and training facility in Davie, Florida. Most of the news has centered sympathetically on the horseowners.
But the state of Florida, meanwhile, conducted an investigation and has released this summary of the results:
On January 6, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services fined Lakeland Animal Nutrition $4,000 for adulterated feed produced by the company that was discovered during an investigation into several horse deaths.
The department was notified of the deaths in October 2014 and began its investigation immediately. During this time, Lakeland Animal Nutrition voluntarily recalled the affected products and ceased production of all equine feed. In addition, the company has recently announced a confidential settlement with the victims.
The department collected various samples of feed produced from Lakeland Animal Nutrition. One sample tested positive for Monensin and a second sample tested positive for Monensin and Lasolocid. Following the guidelines set up in Florida Statutes Chapter 580, two violations for adulterating and misbranding commercial equine feed and two violations of distributing adulterated feed were noted. The maximum fine of $1,000 per violation was imposed.
The department has not received any additional reports of horse illnesses or deaths related to the feed produced by Lakeland Animal Nutrition.
In South Carolina, meanwhile, the situation is not so clear. A horse owner made a statement on her farm's Facebook page, and local newspapers reported, that horses died on a farm because of contaminated horse feed. The state made no announcement and only now are we hearing from the feed company accused by the owner, who claims that her tests of the feed showed contamination with monensin.
More than two weeks later, ADM Alliance Feed responded with this undated statement posted on its company website:
"ADM Alliance Nutrition is aware of the recent comments on social media and some news outlets concerning ADM Alliance 12% horse feed and its alleged link to deaths of horses.
"We take this matter very seriously and are working with authorities to investigate these horses' deaths. We're not aware that authorities have made any determination as to what caused the deaths, and based on our investigation to date, we have not found any evidence that our horse feed caused or contributed to these deaths.
"The single sample of our horse feed tested for our customer at Michigan State University was negative for ionophores (monensin) at the detection limits for the test. We have sent additional samples for testing and will share information as soon as it's available.
"If you have questions about your ADM feed, please contact us at AN.EquineHelp@adm.com."
While the Florida tragedy seems to be resolved and the state officials there have risen to the challenge, the South Carolina facts are still blurry. When horses' lives are at stake, it is the time for impartial and empowered authorities to be making statements and updating horse owners of the situation on a regular basis, even if it is just to tell them that the investigation is going on.
Horse owners need to have confidence in their government officials, and to feel that their horses' safety is of top priority. If there is any doubt that this is the case, horse owners should begin to campaign for change in their state government offices to make sure that animal safety is a priority, even if the animals are recreational pets and not commercial livestock.
There's a bigger story here, if you read between the lines. The problem is that the lines are in public safety announcements that haven't been written yet, but are long overdue.
Thanks to Erin Gillespie of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for her assistance with this article, and to Luis Roberto Lainez for his photo.