The ongoing saga over whether to allow commercial horse slaughter plants to operate in the U.S. appears settled for now.
On Jan. 17, President Barack Obama signed into law a spending bill that provides funding for the federal government for the 2014 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. A provision in the measure stops the Department of Agriculture from spending money on inspections necessary for slaughterhouses to ship horse meat interstate and, ultimately, export it to overseas consumers.
The first federal ban on the use of taxpayer funds to inspect horse slaughter facilities took effect in 2006. That and state legislation forced the last operating horse slaughter facility, in Illinois, to close in 2007. Congress reversed its position in 2011 and lifted the federal funding provision that prohibited USDA inspections.
The first company to apply for horse meat inspections by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service was Roswell, N.M.-based Valley Meat Co. in December 2011. Almost a year later, Valley Meat owner Rick de los Santos sued the USDA for delaying the processing of the application. The department granted the company’s request in June 2013 to convert its cattle facility into a horse slaughter plant and start operations.
But before Valley Meat could begin processing horse meat, Obama signed the spending bill. That same day, a New Mexico judge granted a preliminary injunction against Valley Meat from moving forward with its plans to slaughter horses. The ruling keeps alive a civil lawsuit by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, who is seeking to permanently block horse slaughter in the state.
Meanwhile, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources turned down a permit request from Rains Natural Meats in Gallatin, Mo., which had also sought to process horses for meat. The Jan. 23 MDNR letter cited the new federal budget for its denial.
Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, Iowa, was the only other company that had an active application for equine inspection services with the USDA FSIS.
The House of Representatives and Senate are considering another piece of legislation that relates to horse slaughter: the Safeguard American Food Exports Act of 2013 (H.R. 1094/S. 541). It would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to permanently prohibit the export of horses to processing plants in Canada and Mexico, which is currently legal. Annually, tens of thousands of horses are shipped to these countries (see graph above).