Thursday, December 1, 2011

U.S. Horse Slaughter Plants May Return Under New Bill

Under a federal funding bill signed Nov. 18 by President Barack Obama, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is once again permitted to inspect horse meat for human consumption, clearing the way for the return of horse slaughter plants in the U.S. The domestic horse processing industry has languished for five years, following a 2006 Congressional vote to strip USDA’s funding for horse meat inspection. Inspections continued on a fee-for-service basis until a lawsuit halted that practice in 2007. 

Horse slaughter plants are being considered in Montana, North Carolina, Oregon and other locations. State laws ban slaughtering horses for human consumption in Texas, Illinois, California and Florida, so plants can’t be located there, according to Dave Duquette, president of the nonprofit group United Horsemen, which has worked to restore horse processing. 

“There is a great deal of interest from investors, and someone is probably going to have a plant up and running in 60 to 90 days,” Duquette said. Having processing plants within American borders will spare horses the suffering of long trailer rides to slaughter facilities in Canada and Mexico, he added. “Ideally, we would like to have several plants open around the country so no horse would have to spend too much time on a trailer.” 

According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), “from 2006 through 2010, U.S. horse exports for slaughter increased 148 percent to Canada and 660 percent to Mexico,” totaling about 100,000 per year, approximately the same number of horses slaughtered in the U.S. before the ban. 

The sharply divisive slaughter debate seized headlines again just after Thanksgiving, when the national news media took notice of the appropriations bill’s passage. Horse slaughter critics say the practice is inherently cruel, and horses, though classified by law as livestock, should be treated differently than customary food animals because of their unique relationship with humans. Slaughter proponents say the unintended consequence of closing the U.S. plants was an increase in the number of neglected and abandoned horses whose owners cannot afford their care, or find space for them in overflowing rescue facilities. 

“This issue always has been what is best for the horse and the horse industry. Our group has the compassion and the courage to do what’s best for the horse. The animal-rights groups seem to think the suffering of unwanted horses is just going to go away on its own. The GAO study and the events of the past five years prove that’s not true,” Duquette said.

In a surprise statement, the founder of one of the most vociferous opponents of horse slaughter, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), agreed with lifting the ban. Ingrid Newkirk told the Christian Science Monitor newspaper that the U.S. should never have banned slaughter because “the amount of suffering that it [the ban] created exceeded the amount of suffering it was designed to stop.”