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John Block: Branstad and Horses

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

I have two subjects to cover today. One that is very hopeful – Governor Terry Branstad, now Ambassador Terry Branstad, is headed to China. The other issue, which is not very hopeful, has to do with horses.

Ambassador Branstad – as Governor of Iowa, he was very close and supportive of the ag industry. He served as Governor twice. In fact, he was Governor of Iowa when I was Secretary of Agriculture. I remember clearly how aggressively he was pushing me and President Reagan on ag issues – especially trade. Trade will be one of his top priorities now, trying to get China to back off of their 30% tariff on ethanol and their duty on distillers dried grain (DDG) exports, just to mention a couple of Chinese market restrictions.

Our new Chinese Ambassador has a long history of friendly relations with China, but his job will not be easy. It does look like he is positioned to open the Chinese market for our beef which has been closed for years.

Horses – there is a lot of waste in government. Here is one ridiculous, outrageous example of how the government spends your tax money. The Bureau of Land Management spends $50 million each year to feed, house, and care for 46,000 wild horses. On top of that, there are 73,000 wild horses in Western states living on ranch land and destroying the grass and countryside. We were spending $20 million in year 2000. The number keeps multiplying – now up to $80 million.

We have too many horses. Our smart and common sense government closed down all horse slaughter in the U.S. in 2007. Since then, if you have an unwanted horse, you can shoot it and bury it on the South 40, or you can send it to Mexico or Canada for processing. The meat is then exported to Europe or Asia. They are happy to buy and consume horse meat.

With all the unwanted horses in the U.S. costing us millions of dollars, it is time to process the horses in the U.S. If we just can’t accept that, then send them to Mexico or Canada. They know what to do.

By the way, President Trump’s budget proposes to cut that $50 million wasted on horses. Unfortunately, I am afraid the Congress is more inclined to waste your money.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

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