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I have written about this topic on previous occasions, but it refuses to come to a final resolution. Recent events have thrust it back to the front page. The USDA, on June 28, 2013, approved a license to process horse meat to a New Mexico company.
Valley Meat Company of Roswell, New Mexico, planned to start processing horse meat later this summer. Approximately a week later, the USDA issued a second license to process horse meat to Responsible Transportation Company of Sigourney, Iowa. Since both plants passed Federal inspection, and licenses were issued, the USDA must assign meat inspectors to the plants.
Sounds like horse meat processing plants are back in business in the U.S. Not so fast. A brief history is essential.
Horses have been eaten by humans for over 30,000 years, as depicted in cave paintings such as those found in the Chauvett Cave in France. Many countries process horses in industrial abattoirs, and currently the following countries have horse meat processing plants: Mexico, Argentina, Kazkhstan, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Poland, Italy, Romania, Chile, France, Uruguay, Senegal and Spain. However, horse slaughter has become controversial because of issues concerning safety of the meat, cruelty to the animal and concerns over eating an animal which is viewed by many as a companion animal.
This controversy has divided agricultural and horse breeding associations, with each bolstering an impressive list, both for and against horse slaughter. Some of the organizations who oppose horse slaughter are the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Welfare Institute Coalition, Veterinarians for Equine Welfare, etc. While those lobbying for horse slaughter include the American Quarter Horse Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, etc.
In 2006, there were three equine slaughter facilities operating in the United States. The meat processed from these facilities was shipped overseas to Europe and Japan for human consumption. A small percentage, approximately 10%, was sold to American zoos for carnivore feed.
As a result of protests against horse slaughter, the United States House of Representatives voted to end horse slaughter, but the bill never came to a vote before the Senate. Since the bill never passed, there was no prohibition against processing horse meat for human consumption in the United States. Later attempts were made concerning passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, but the bills died at the end of each congressional session.
Since no action was taken by Congress on finalizing the bills outlawing horse slaughter, Congress, under pressure from anti-slaughter opponents, passed legislation in 2006 defunding USDA horse meat inspectors. This took effect in 2007, and forced the horse slaughter facilities to close. However, in 2011, the appropriation bill resumed funding for USDA horse meat inspectors; thus, eliminating the ban on horse slaughter for human consumption. In the current Agriculture Appropriations Bill for 2014, the ban on funding horse meat inspectors is once again proposed. The Obama administration has gone on record opposing horse slaughter. No final resolution has been made concerning the Agricultural Appropriations Bill for 2014.
Many groups point to the problems which were created after the plant closures in 2007. The Federal government accountability office conducted a study, which concluded that since the closure of the horse meat processing plants, horse abuse and abandonment has increased. The proponents of horse slaughter point to the study and argue that it is better to allow meat processing in the states, where the horses can be killed in a more humane and federally regulated facility, than to have horses abandoned and starved or shipped to foreign countries, which have far less stringent regulations than the
United States. The statistics show that since the closure of the plants in 2007, many horses were shipped to processing plants in Mexico and Canada. Approximately 100,000 per year were shipped, with 2012 figures topping over 167,000 horses. Horses shipped to Mexico this year are currently 18% higher than over the same period in 2012.
The issue becomes, is the horse better off being left to starve to death or travel long distances in cramped quarters to foreign slaughter plants, or be slaughtered in the U.S. in plants that are federally inspected, and where more humane conditions can be imposed? It appears the outlawing of the United States slaughter houses has made the problem worse.
So where are we now? Since processing plants are beginning to be licensed, and the ban on funding Federal inspectors has been lifted, it appears horse meat processing is once again legal. However, the Obama administration's budget for the 2014 fiscal year eliminates funding for horse meat inspection, effectively reinstating the ban. The agriculture committees, both House and Senate, have endorsed the proposal, however, it is not certain that the Agriculture Appropriations Bill will pass this year.
The government's decision to pass inspection of domestic horse meat processing plants, while asking Congress to defund horse meat inspectors, is contradictory and simply makes no sense. Although licenses are being issued, and horse slaughter can be initiated, the future is uncertain as the plant owners do not know if inspectors will be funded. No inspectors means no processing–not to mention the numerous lawsuits filed by animal protection groups.
The government needs to be clear and consistent about this issue. The current illogical inconsistencies are embarrassing and leave little confidence in the decision making process.
A federal district court has issued a temporary injunction covering both the New Mexico and Iowa plants. A hearing was held on the issue of the amount of the bond to be filed to cover plant losses if the injunction is dismissed. The Judge ordered a $500,000 bond to be filed. The plants remain closed but a hearing on the injunction must be held within 30 days to determine if the injunction should be dismissed. The animal rights position is that not enough "environmental studies" have been done. Thus the battle lines are drawn. Unless the injunction is dismissed outright at the hearing, litigation could take years.
We'll continue monitoring the situation and provide more information when it is available.
Enough legal talk–it’s time to hitch horses!
Ken is a practicing attorney in Myerstown, Pennsylvania, where a good bit of his practice involves negligence cases. He and his wife, Karen, own Sunny Hill Farm Belgians, and they have been exhibiting their six-horse hitch for several years at most major shows in the East.