Horse slaughter on the horizon?

Horse meat production debated at state, federal level
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Currently, horses are being shipped to countries neighboring the U.S. for slaughter. In 2012, 110,202 horses went to Mexico and 48,455 went to Canada, a total of 158,657. By comparison, 137,984 horses were exported for slaughter in 2010 and 109,487 in 2009.

Talk of horse slaughter operations in the U.S. has resumed in earnest six years after the last processing plant closed.

Currently, no facilities are approved for horse slaughter in the United States. A federal ban on the use of federal funds to inspect horses destined for human consumption took effect in 2006, effectively halting domestic slaughter in the U.S. But a decision by Congress in November 2011 to lift the ban opened the door for companies to open slaughterhouses.

The first company to apply for equine meat inspections by the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service was Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, N.M., in December 2011. This past October, Valley Meat owner Rick de los Santos sued the USDA for delaying the processing of the application.

According to the complaint: “In the spring of 2012, USDA altered its stance on this issue due to political and special interest pressure, effectively allowing the issue to become politicized. The evidence will show a marked change in cooperation of USDA with Plaintiff and sudden change in availability of USDA to be able to issue a grant of inspection as well provide inspection of equine animals for slaughter for human consumption. ... USDA officials have repeatedly made statements that this issue is ‘political’ and relied upon that as the reason that they have failed to act according to the directives of Congress thus arbitrarily and capriciously failing to act in violation of the (Administrative Procedure Act).”

In early March, the USDA announced its plan to process the application for inspecting horse slaughter at Valley Meat Co.; the company’s lawsuit is still pending. A decision on the application is imminent. If approved and inspections begin, processing at the Valley Meat plant could begin shortly.

In addition, the USDA FSIS has two other active applications for equine inspection services, according to FSIS public affairs staff. They were submitted by Rains Natural Meats in Gallatin, Mo., and Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, Iowa.

Recently proposed federal legislation seeks to put a halt to these efforts by outlawing the export of U.S.-produced horse meat for sale in foreign markets as well as banning the export of horses for slaughter.

The Safeguard American Food Exports Act of 2013 (H.R. 1094/S. 541), introduced March 12, would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to prevent the re-establishment of the U.S. horse processing industry and ban the export of horses for processing in Canada and Mexico.

Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Meehan and Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky introduced the House of Representatives version, and Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced the Senate version.

H.R. 1094 has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Livestock, Rural Development, and Credit for review. Meanwhile, S. 541 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions for consideration.

State legislation dealing with equine slaughter began popping up across the country this year, too.

Oklahoma lifted its 50-year ban on the practice March 29 when Gov. Mary Fallin signed a new law that will allow facilities to process and export horse meat. The law takes effect Nov. 1.

In New Mexico, a bill (H.B. 90) introduced in the state house Jan. 16 would allocate money for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to study the feasibility of locating a horse slaughter facility in the state.

The New York State Assembly is considering a bill (A.B. 3905) introduced Jan. 29 that would prohibit the slaughter of horses intended for human consumption and the export of horse meat. Maine’s House of Representatives introduced a similar bill (L.D. 1286) March 28.