Proposed horse slaughter plants in New Mexico and other states may not be able to operate under the federal budget, which does not provide funding for plant inspectors.
(Photo: Mark Sobhani, USA TODAY)
By Gary Strauss @gbstrauss
The nascent domestic horse slaughter business, struggling to gain acceptance over opposition from animal rights activists since 2011, was dealt another blow Thursday after the latest congressional spending bill cleared the Senate and House of Representatives without providing funding for meat plant inspectors.
The move effectively would ban meat packing plants in New Mexico, Iowa and Missouri from slaughtering horses and exporting horse meat overseas. No plants have processed horse meat since 2007, and after Congress restored funding for inspections in 2011, the slaughterhouses faced stiff legal opposition and highly visible opposition from animal rights groups and activists including actor Robert Redford and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson.
The issue had split Native American tribes, some of which favored rounding up wild horses destroying valuable range land. Proponents said blocking domestic horse slaughter would merely shift production to plants in Mexico and Canada.
Wayne Pacelle, head of the Humane Society, applauded the Senate and House efforts.
"We Americans care for horses, we ride horses, and we even put them to work. But we don't eat horses in the United States. And we shouldn't be gathering them up and slaughtering them for people to eat in far-off places." The Humane Society and other groups seek a permanent ban on the slaughter of domesticated horses and an end to exporting horses for slaughter outside the USA.
Matt Bershadker, head of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the move by Congress should be followed by passage of the Safeguard American Food Exports Act, which would end export of horses for slaughter in other countries."Horse slaughter in inhumane, whether here or abroad, and a lasting end to this reckless practice is the only just solution," Bershadker said.
Horse slaughter advocates aren't ready to rein in their fight.
Attorney Blair Dunn, who represents New Mexico's Valley Meat and Rains Natural Meats of Gallatin, Mo., said the companies may file legal action, saying a ban on plant inspections would violate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Valley Meat had planned to begin horse slaughter this month until state Attorney General Gary King filed suit on environmental grounds, saying the plant did not have a permit to discharge wastewater.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., plans to introduce legislation that would reinstate money for federal plant inspections.
"Without these facilities, aging horses are often neglected or forced to endure cruel conditions as they are transported to processing facilities across the border," he said. "This provision is counterproductive to what animal rights activists are hoping to achieve."
Oklahoma lifted a 50-year ban on horse slaughter plants last March.
Contributing: Associated Press