A wide-ranging agriculture bill set to be dealt with by Congress in mid-January could bury plans to resume horse slaughter on US soil.
Three plants in the US have approval from the US Department of Agriculture to slaughter horses, but the upcoming agriculture bill could again defund the federal plant inspections required for abattoirs to slaughter horses for human consumption.
Its passage would mean such plants could not operate on US soil, reinstating a prohibition that had been in place from 2007 to 2011.
The House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations bills include identical language that would stop the inspection.
The wording was added during committee markup in both chambers, and was requested for the first time by the US Department of Agriculture in the president’s budget.
One plant, set up by Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, New Mexico, said it could open its doors as soon as January 1.
Michael Markarian, the chief program and policy officer of the Humane Society of the United States and president of The Fund for Animals, said the law change was urgently needed, given the pending opening of horse slaughter plants in the US.
“It makes no sense for the federal government to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to oversee new horse slaughter plants at a time when Congress is so focused on fiscal responsibility,” he said.
“The shocking discovery of horse meat in beef products in Europe underscores the potential threat to American health if horse slaughter plants open here.”
Markarian said horse slaughter was cruel and cannot be made humane, adding that there was wide public opposition to the practice.
“The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. They don’t ‘euthanize’ old horses, but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan.
“We’re pressing to have the horse slaughter provision sustained in the omnibus bill that Congress plans to act on by January 15 to avoid another government shutdown.”
The US Department of Agriculture’s approvals to date for three plants also face a legal challenge, with the humane society and other horse advocates arguing the agency should not have given approval without first obtaining a proper environmental impact report.
The action resulted in a temporary restraining order preventing plants opening, but this was lifted recently by a judge, opening the way for plants to open as the case made its way through the court system.
The last slaughter plant closed in the US in 2007, in Illinois.
However, the absence of slaughter facilities in the US saw a sharp rise in the number of horses being trucked long distances to abattoirs in Canada and Mexico.
Slaughter supporters say regulated abattoirs in the US would be more humane than trucking horses to unregulated plants in Mexico. They argue the lack of slaughter facilities in the US has been behind a rise in horse neglect.
Opponents say slaughter is cruel and there is no such thing as a humane slaughter plant for horses. They say the poor economy is behind a rise in neglect cases, not the lack of slaughter facilities. They say overbreeding plays a significant part in the problem.