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YAKIMA — A Northwest tribe urged federal officials to explain their position against slaughtering horses in the United States, calling it an “absurd” prohibition.

Equine slaughter has been a hot-button issue in the West, where horses hold an iconic role as loyal companions. Animal-welfare groups have expressed outrage at the idea of resuming domestic slaughter, which Congress effectively banned in 2006 by cutting funding for federal inspection programs.

Others, including some animal-welfare groups, say the ban has increased horse abuse and abandonment and led to booming wild-horse populations on state, federal and tribal lands.

No group is perhaps more affected than the Yakama Nation, with an estimated 12,000 wild horses roaming across its sprawling reservation, Yakama Nation Chairman Harry Smiskin said in a March 29 letter to President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

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“We don’t understand why it is OK to slaughter many animals in this country — certainly the White House and the USDA have meat on their cafeteria menus every day — but for some reason horses are considered sacrosanct,” Smiskin wrote. “We should not manage these horses based on purely emotional arguments, story books or movies we all saw as children.”

Smiskin argued the market for horse meat in other parts of the world could create jobs, reduce overpopulated herds and feed others.

Smiskin declined to talk about the letter in a telephone interview Monday.

Several Northwest tribes support opening a horse slaughterhouse in the region to address booming wild horse populations.

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