A second proposed horse slaughter plant has been given the go-ahead by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The granting of inspections for Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, Iowa, follows the approval of Valley Meat Co’s New Mexico plant just four days ago. A third plant, in Missouri, likely to gain approval within days.
News of the latest approval of a so-called “grant of inspection” by the department follows the filing of a lawsuit challenging the USDA move.
The USDA says it is required by laws to grant the inspections if all federal requirements are met. It says it is obliged to assign meat inspectors to the plant.
The department said in a statement: “The Administration has requested Congress to reinstate the ban on horse slaughter. Until Congress acts, the department must continue to comply with current law.”
Slaughter plants have not operated on US soil for six years. The refusal by Congress to fund federal plant inspections effectively prevented the operation of plants, but the removal of the defunding language in an agriculture bill in 2011, opened the doors to the resumption of slaughter.
On Tuesday, animal protection groups reported that they had filed suit against the USDA’s decision to allow inspections.
An immediate injunction has been sought.
The Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue, Marin Humane Society, Horses for Life Foundation, Return to Freedom and five private individuals are suing under the National Environmental Protection Act, due to the agency’s failure to conduct the necessary environmental review before authorizing horse slaughterhouses to operate.
In June, the appropriation committess of the House and Senate voted to halt all funding for horse slaughter in the 2014 fiscal year.
The groups say the federal government could spend millions of taxpayer dollars to start inspections at horse slaughter plants, only to have Congress terminate the process in the coming months.
Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation with the humane society, said: “Horse slaughter plants pollute local water bodies with blood and offal, permeate the air with a foul stench, diminish property values and put horses through misery.
“The USDA’s decision to visit these horrors on the citizens of New Mexico, Missouri, and Iowa – without even conducting an environmental review first – is irresponsible, and a clear violation of federal law.”
Front Range Equine Rescue president Hilary Wood said: “The USDA has failed to consider the basic fact that horses are not raised as a food animal.
“Horse owners provide their horses with a number of substances dangerous to human health. To blatantly ignore this fact jeopardizes human health as well as the environment surrounding a horse slaughter plant.
“The negative consequences of horse slaughter will be felt immediately and over the long term if allowed to resume in the US. America’s horses are not food.”
The founder of the Horses For Life Foundation, Allondra Stevens, said: “The USDA’s decision to grant horse slaughter inspections is an outright insult and a betrayal to the overwhelming majority of Americans who are against horse slaughter, to the welfare of the animals themselves, and to consumer and environmental safety. With the environmental and food safety risks of horse slaughter operations, the FSIS is leading the USA down a reckless and dangerous path due to the toxic byproducts of horse slaughter.
“As a nation of horse lovers, our time and resources will be better spent thinking outside the slaughterbox, working to implement more programs and infrastructures that assist with horse rescue, retention and retirement solutions.”
Return To Freedom president Neda DeMayo said: “We join 80 percent of Americans in their opposition to horse slaughter. America is the original home of the horse and has never been a horse-eating culture.
“Horses have been our companions, fought battles with us, worked from sun up to sun down by our side. They have never abandoned us and we will not abandon them now. We will not have their blood on our hands.”