The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Front Range Equine Rescue, Marin Humane Society, Horses for Life Foundation, Return to Freedom and five private individuals are seeking an injunction to stop horse slaughter plants on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) -approved plant inspections in New Mexico, Iowa, Oklahoma and Missouri until the court can consider the allegations in the lawsuit.
The complaint alleges the USDA did not perform required environmental impact analysis under the National Environmental Protection Act before issuing permits allowing horse slaughterhouses to operate. The plaintiffs seek a hearing on the matter by July 8.
The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service approved the first permit application, submitted by Valley Meat Company of Roswell, N.M., on June 28. It approved a second permit for a plant owned by Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, Iowa, on July 2. USDA is apparently also considering applications from would-be plants in Gallatin and Rockville, Mo.; Woodbury, Tenn.; and Washington, Okla.
According to the USDA, federal law requires them to grant these permits when the applicants meet all the requirements. However, even the USDA wants to stop the practice of horse slaughter in this country. It 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.”
However, according to Jonathan Lovvorn, HSUS senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation, “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. 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.”
The Federal Meat Inspection Act requires inspections for horse meat to be sold for human consumption. The USDA decisions on these slaughterhouse permits is at odds with recent funding decisions made by the U.S. House and Senate appropriations committees. Both voted in June to halt horse slaughter inspection funding for fiscal year 2014. More to the point, next year’s proposed federal budget also does not include inspection funding. Until these funding decisions become law, however, USDA is obligated to process and approve properly applied-for permits.
A History of Horse Meat
Slaughtering horses for meat was legal in the U.S. until 2006, when Congress stopped funding inspections of horse slaughterhouses. No inspections meant no meat processing, so the three operating slaughterhouses in Texas and Illinois had to cease operation in 2007.
See a HSUS video about horse slaughter here (be aware you’ll see some graphic content):
Fast forward another four years. In 2011, Congress restored inspection funding. Valley Meat Company and several other slaughterhouses in turn applied for permits to operate. Valley Meat even sued the USDA when permit processing took too long.
Americans, not surprisingly, aren’t chomping at the bit to have a horse burger. U.S.-produced horse meat isn’t intended for American dinner plates, but rather would be sold overseas where foodies consider it a delicacy and will pay $20 a pound for it. Zoos also purchase the meat to feed their captive carnivores.
Where do all the horses intended for slaughter come from? Primarily, they are purchased from auctions where breeders and private sellers unload horses that no one wants. Old racehorses, children’s ponies, carriage horses, horses that breeders cannot sell, perfectly healthy horses that have no home — all of these and more are snapped up by contract buyers who travel the country purchasing horses and selling them for their meat.
According to the USDA, 92 percent of horses sold to slaughter are in “good condition.” They are simply unwanted.
New Mexico’s Objections
New Mexico, the site of the first approved USDA permit to Valley Meat Company, doesn’t want a horse slaughterhouse to open there. The state’s Attorney General’s Office recently ruled that the drugs regularly administered to horses in this country make horse meat unfit for human consumption.
“Our legal analysis concludes that state law does not allow for production of meat that is chemically tainted under federal regulations,” says Attorney General Gary King in a press release on his office web site. “New Mexico law is very clear that it would be prohibited and illegal.”
According to a list maintained by Front Range Equine Rescue, over 100 different drugs can typically be given to horses, some of which are specifically not intended for use in horses to be consumed for food.
Is Slaughter in the U.S. the More “Humane” Alternative?
Sadly, the absence of horse slaughter facilities in the U.S. does not mean that horses from this country are spared a grisly fate. A brisk slaughter trade in Canada and Mexico is happy to take the horses that are not killed here.
In 2012, for example, over 110,000 horses from the U.S. were slaughtered in Mexico. Another 60,000 or so were slaughtered in Canada. Year-to-date totals as of March 2013 show that 21,429 horses have met their end in Mexico, and almost 4,422 have been processed in Canada.
Some therefore argue that that banning horse slaughter in this country only dooms the large population of unwanted horses to even more horrific slaughter across the border, under much less humane conditions. It’s a sobering argument.
The solution, really, is fewer unwanted horses. The challenge is how to make that happen.
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