The law change passed overwhelmingly by the US Congress was aimed at saving an estimated 30,000 horses a year from being killed in slaughterhouses. It stopped the use of taxpayer money to pay for legally required federal inspections of horses and horse meat.
It was thought the move would effectively shut the plants down and be the first step in ending the trade in the US altogether.
However, the effect of the law, due to come into forced on March 10, has effectively been stymied by the United States Department of Agriculture allowing the slaughterhouses to continue under an arrangement in which the businesses would pay a fee for inspection services. The slaughter plants will pay an estimated $US350,000 a year for inspection services provided by private inspectors.
The public have until March 9 to comment on the move.
The US currently processes and exports about 10,000 tonnes of horse meat annually from the slaughter of 50,000 horses at three foreign-owned plants in Illinois and Texas. Thousands more horses are shipped overseas to abbatoirs.
The American Horse Defense Fund (AHDF) and animal welfare groups across the US are urging the American public to contact the USDA before March 9 to lodge their objection to the private meat inspection proposal. Comments can be mailed to: Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, 300 12th Street, SW., Room 102 Cotton Annex, Washington, DC 20250 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org The AHDF is also urging Americans to contact their senators about supporting a bill, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, that would place a permanent ban on horse slaughter.
Trina Bellak, the AHDF founder and president, said: "The foreign-owned slaughter industry needs to understand that Americans will never view horses as dinner. The American public is not about to forget our debt to horses who are a symbol of freedom and a cherished, significant part of our country's history," she said.
"They will not be sent to the slaughterhouse without a fight."
The AHDF has also raised other concerns about the industry, pointing out that many of the horses sent to slaughter had never been raised for human consumption, meaning some are given medications that would be illegal to give to animals intended specifically for human consumption.
The organization points to what they say is the large amount of waste produced by processing plants, and the potential for it to cause a public health hazard.
It rejects claims that a ban on slaughter would create a surplus of unwanted horses.
A study indicates that 90 per cent of horses going to slaughter are in excellent order and in many cases trained. The AHDF says many could have new lives with new owners, and should be given that opportunity.
It also challenges claims by the industry that the slaughter is humane, and says the most humane death for a horse is euthanasia by a veterinarian.