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Utah's ranches and range are riddled with too many worthless horses, some lawmakers contend. And that has them wondering if slaughterhouses would help solve the problem.

Members of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee on Wednesday requested research about the extent of the horse problem and the role slaughterhouses could play.

Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, raised the issue in light of the growing number of starving horses, high hay prices and lack of financially viable options for strapped horse owners who might be forced to pay up to $600 apiece to put a horse down and have it buried. He said his primary goal is to "restore the market."

"I've been vilified for being inhumane even for suggesting this," he said.

State Veterinarian Bruce King noted that it is legal in Utah to slaughter a horse for pet food. He agreed, though, the issue warrants an in-depth study even though it is difficult to stomach, especially for people on the streets of Salt Lake City.

"Eatin' Mr. Ed doesn't appeal to a lot of people," he said, "or even feeding Mr. Ed to Fido."

The Humane Society of Utah issued a statement Wednesday to denounce any legislative effort to change state law to allow horses to be slaughtered for human consumption, presumably to be eaten overseas. The group called horse meat often "toxic and unfit for human consumption" and said commercial slaughterhouses "inhumane" as well as "financial drains upon the communities in which they are located."

"America's horses are an iconic symbol of the West and our heritage," said Gene Baierschmidt, executive director. "So the Humane Society of Utah will closely monitor this situation and will be prepared to oppose any proposed measures which may be brought before Utah lawmakers."

Twitter: @judyfutah