Two of three slaughter plants in the US have already been forced to suspend operations recently. The two Texas plants stopped slaughtering horses for human consumption after an appellate court upheld a State law making it illegal to sell, possess and transport horsemeat for sale for human consumption.
Since then, the remaining Illinois plant has been killing about 1000 horses a week.
United States District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, in a 51-page decision released today, held that the slaughter of horses in America violates federal law. Her ruling effectively blocks the US Department of Agriculture from providing horse meat inspections for a fee.
The decision by the USDA to provide inspection services for a fee had, in the opinion of animal rights groups, circumvented a Congressionally approved 2005 amendment that cut federal funding for the required inspections.
That decision had been expected to stop slaughter for human consumption, but the USDA accepted a proposal that it be paid to provide the mandatory inspections.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly, in her opinion issued in response to a lawsuit filed in February 2006 by the Society for Animal Protective Legislation (SAPL) and other humane organisations and individuals, ruled that the USDA violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to conduct an environmental impact review of its decision to allow the continuation of horse slaughter.
Animal welfare groups that took the legal action were quick to claims victory.
"Tonight, after years of legislation and litigation, America's three horse slaughterhouses can no longer kill horses for human consumption," said Chris Heyde, deputy legislative director for the Society for Animal Protective Legislation.
"We call on Illinois-based Cavel International to work with the humane and rescue communities to find permanent, safe homes for the hundreds of horses who were slated for slaughter, to give them a second chance at life.
"The American public has overwhelmingly opposed the slaughter of America's horses for human consumption and now the courts have declared horse slaughter to be illegal," adds Heyde.
"While horses will no longer be butchered in the US, they can be hauled under appalling conditions to an even more brutal death in plants across the US. border.
"Congress must pass federal legislation to extend the protections to all horses and to send a clear message to those few who profit from this barbaric trade."
Currently pending in Congress are HR503 and its Senate companion measure, S311, which would ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption and prohibit the transport of horses outside of the United States for slaughter.
There is no word on whether the pro-slaughter lobby will appeal.