Florida Investigates Deaths of 100 Horses at Embryo Transfer Farm

The 100 recipient mares who died in October at the EquiTransfer embryo transfer farm in Ocala, Florida, were apparently poisoned by botulism in contaminated haylage, a processed grass product.  

According to a November 4 report by Fred Hiers, staff writer for the Ocala, Florida Star-Banner,

preliminary results indicate that the toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum was what caused the horses at EquiTransfer to suffer neurological damage before they were euthanized by their owners, said Mike Short, a veterinarian with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 

The two veterinarians who own and operate the embryo transfer farm would not say who provided the haylage.  The state of Florida cannot compel them to disclose the producer because Florida apparently does not regulate haylage or hay “because it is grass.”  I can’t say I follow that reasoning.  That would be like the state of California not regulating bagged lettuce because it is lettuce. 

Several experts quoted in the piece said they would not feed horses haylage, a product developed for feeding to cattle, because of the more sensitive digestive systems of horses.  Haylage is reportedly more widely fed to horses in Europe than in the United States.  

I took a quick survey of online articles and found a wide range of opinions on the safety of feeding haylage to horses, but the most persuasive opinion was one expressed on a webpage published by the United Kingdom division of the Dow Chemical company.  Though Dow, a producer of hay silage in Europe, touts the product as “a good and very flexible substitute” for pasture and a possible alternative to feeding hay to horses, the company itself includes a huge caveat

some potential issues linked to feeding haylage to horses are object of discussions and further research is needed to elucidate best practices.

Dow deserves credit for disclosing the caution.  When the producer of a food product itself publicly acknowledges that the product needs further research and has “potential issues” for feeding to horses, that is enough for me to say “No thanks.”  

Why risk the lives of horses?

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