The US Department of Agriculture is embarking on a nationwide program of horse slaughter without regard to environmental or human health concerns, horse advocates claim in a lawsuit.
Front Range Equine Rescue, the Humane Society of the United States and others have filed an action against Secretary for Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Under Secretary for Food Elizabeth Hagen and the administrator for the Food Safety and Inspection Service Alfred Almanza.
The action, in the United States District Court, Northern District of California, centers on the decision by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow federal inspections of horse slaughter plants, which brings the reopening of such plants on US soil a step closer.
The USDA has granted approval for two plants so far, saying it is bound by law to do so if all conditions are met.
The action by the plaintiffs seeks an injunction against the USDA in granting the plant approvals.
The complaint states: “Defendants are embarking on a nationwide program of horse slaughter that presents clear threats to the environment without complying with Congressionally mandated requirements intended to protect the public and our natural resources.
“The slaughter of American horses for human consumption presents unique and extensive dangers that have never been adequately considered by [the] defendants, despite their obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
“Plaintiffs are filing this action because defendants are proceeding with the inspection of horses under the Federal Meat Inspection Act without compliance with their federally mandated environmental review obligations.”
The complaint continues: “Americans do not intend their horses to end up as meat, as American captive and wild horses are not treated by their original owners as food animals.
“Because they are not raised in regulated industries conscious of public health and safety concerns, but rather in private homes, on racetracks, and as working animals, serious environmental issues arise if they are slaughtered for human food.
“Almost all American horses are given a wide variety of drugs and other substances that render their blood and tissue contaminated and dangerous to consume.
“The discard of the byproducts of horse slaughter thus poses a serious public health risk when such adulterated tissue and blood, and the wastewater from slaughter, seep into the ground and water supply.”
The plaintiffs noted that about 80 percent of Americans surveyed opposed horse slaughter for human consumption.
Horse slaughter, they argued, was particularly detrimental to the human environment.
“The last three American slaughterhouses … were shut down in 2007. Every one of these operations wreaked environmental havoc by dumping blood, entrails, urine, feces, heads and hooves into local water systems, overwhelming local wastewater infrastructure and causing numerous environmental violations.”
The plaintiffs warned that, since the USDA was approving a horse slaughter facility for the first time since the 2007 shutdown of the industry, the manner in which it granted any such approval would likely establish a precedent for how it handled further slaughter inspection applications.
“Horse slaughter’s impacts on local, national and even international human environments is highly controversial,” the plaintiffs said, noting, among other matters, the recent horse-meat contamination scandal that affected Europe.
“Approval of horse slaughter inspections threatens a violation of federal, state and local environemtnal laws, because past horse slaughter facilities repeatedly and brazenly violated local laws pertaining to waste management and air and water quality, costing host communities large sums of money to seek compliance and remedy environmental harms, and because of the special dangers inherent in horse meat.”
The plaintiffs argue that granting federal inspections without a NEPA review is wrong and asked the court to set the approvals aside.
The plaintiffs in the case are Front Range Equine Rescue, the Humane Society of the United States, Marin Humane Society, the Horses for Life Foundation, Return to Freedom, Ramona Cordova, Krystle Smith, Cassie Gross, Deborah Trahan, and Barbara Sink.
The attorney for the plaintiffs is Bruce Wagman.