U.S. horse slaughter on the chopping block again

Jan 17, 2014

The 2014 omnibus spending bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last Wednesday includes a temporary ban on horsemeat processing. The measure would keep USDA from using federal funds to inspect horsemeat.

The federal spending bill moved on to the U.S. Senate, where it is expected to pass.

The last three horse slaughter plants were closed in 2007 under state laws, and Congress had defunded required inspections that made it impossible for them to open in other states until 2011.

The massive spending bill unveiled in early January by top congressional negotiators would effectively reinstate a federal ban on slaughtering horses for human consumption.

The tiny provision takes up about 10 lines of the 1,582-page bill, but it was the focus of an intense lobbying battle. Sen. Roy Blunt (R- MO) unsuccessfully fought against the provision.

“At the end of the day, that was not something we were going to win,” Blunt, who sits on the Senate spending committee that helped craft the budget bill, told reporters. “That issue was pretty emotional.”

The new defunding language contains not only defunding, but also a stipulation that funding not be restored until and unless the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes a determination that meat from American horses can be made safe to enter the food supply. The FDA regulates which drugs are safe in meat animals, as well as their withdrawal times. The FDA currently categorizes horses as companion (non-food) animals.

Defunding language was passed by both the House and the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committees in 2013 with super majorities, but neither budget reached the floor for a full vote. Last week with key support from Vice President Joe Biden and congressional leaders, the defunding language was put into the omnibus bill.

The success of this effort surprised many in Washington, since this budget has little in the way of riders. Supporters of the horse slaughter ban point out that a separate legislation will be needed to stop the export of U.S. horses to Canada and Mexico for slaughter.

“Slaughtering horses is inhumane, disgusting and unnecessary, and there is no place for it in the United States,” Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), a proponent of the measure, said in a written statement.

The legislation follows a New Mexico battle, where horse processing plant Valley Meat has been battling to open, but was recently blocked when the state’s Attorney General Gary King sued the plant owner.

A ruling in the New Mexico case was expected last Friday, though it would be rendered moot by a USDA inspection ban, and the lawsuit may be withdrawn if Congress acts before the judge rules, said Phil Sisneros, spokesman for King.

Proponents of horse slaughter have pointed to a growing population of unwanted and abused horses in the U.S., contending that domestic slaughter is the most humane choice. Currently, unwanted horses are shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter. Many ranchers and Indian tribes also support a return to slaughter, saying exploding feral horse populations are destroying their rangelands.

“It is certainly disappointing that Congress is returning to a failed policy at the urging of special interest groups while failing to provide for an alternative,” Blair Dunn, an attorney for Valley Meat told ABC News. “The result is more waste and devastation of the range and the denial of access to an export market that would have created jobs and positive economic impacts to rural agriculture communities that desperately need these opportunities.” — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor