After the U.S. Congress lifted a ban on using Federal funds for horse meat inspection, horses could soon be slaughtered in the U.S. for human consumption. However, animal rights groups are protesting the decision.
The lifting of the ban on the use of Federal funds for horse meat inspection brings about the failure of the efforts by opponents to pass a ban on horse slaughter. In 2006, activists, in a compromise move, had pushed a measure stopping funding for horse meat inspection in place of the outright ban they were unable to secure. Since the law requires that meat must be inspected before being used as food, horse slaughter operations were forced to shut down.
But with Congress having lifted the ban, animal rights activists are warning that horse slaughterhouses will begin springing up in the next few months. Meanwhile, USDA has said it will begin conducting the inspection of horse meat in slaughterhouses.
AP report on Fox News says that the lift of ban on funding horse meat inspection was included in a spending bill President Barack Obama signed into law on November 18. The bill, however, did not specifically allocate funds to horse meat inspection, rather it is expected that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would source the funds from its budget.
Huffington Post reports that a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report influenced the change. The report, released in July, 2011, and titled "Actions Needed To Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter," indicated that horse welfare had declined since the federal funding of inspection was withdrawn. It was reported that in Colorado, investigations of horse neglect and abuse increased by more than 60 percent.
According to the GAO report:
"The extent of the decline is unknown due to a lack of comprehensive, national data, but state officials attributed the decline in horse welfare to many factors, but primarily to the cessation of domestic slaughter and the U.S. economic downturn.
Animal rights groups such as The Equine Welfare Alliance, criticized the report:
"The GAO has a reputation for objective and thorough research and fair reporting. Every indication is that this standard was abandoned in the compilation of this report, and that the result is little short of a propaganda tool for horse slaughter interests."
Groups opposed to horse slaughter say the process is cruel and that horse owners who want to dispose of their horses should rather get a veterinarian to put the animals to sleep. According to an animal rights campaigner "Euthanasia has always been an option. If you acquire a horse you should be a responsible owner and provide lifetime care."
The New York Times, according to The Christian Science Monitor, reports, however, that many horse breeders have gone out of business because they were unable to sell horses for meat. Pro-slaughter activists also argue that forcing euthanasia option on horse breeders and owners places extra costs on them.
AP reports that Cheri White Owl, founder of the non-profit organization Horse Feathers Equine Rescue in Guthrie, Oklahoma, says a lot of the problem is due to the economy. "People are deciding to pay their mortgage or keep their horse," she said.
According to AP, the last time a U.S. slaughterhouse butchered horses was 2007 in Illinois. Animal welfare activists are already preparing to resist slaughterhouses that plan to butcher horses, and are warning of a massive public outcry in any town where a slaughterhouse for horses opens.
According to the president and chief executive of The Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, local opposition will emerge against horse slaughterhouses. He said: "If plants open up in Oklahoma or Nebraska, you'll see controversy, litigation, legislative action and basically a very inhospitable environment to operate."
The Christian Science Monitor reports horse advocate, Stephanie Graham, said:
“They're signing the death sentence for thousands of our American horses. The wild mustangs in Oklahoma and every horse in Oklahoma is at risk. Horses are going to die and it's going to be brutal.”
But Rep. Jack Kingston (R) of Georgia, who helped in removing the ban on funding meat inspection, defended the decision:
"We can't monitor horse slaughter in a plant in Mexico or Canada … and so we don't know if it's being done humanely or not because the USDA obviously doesn't have any jurisdiction there. Along the way, these horses are having a rough transit. USDA does not have the jurisdiction over how the animals are treated along the way."
Pro-slaughter activists are proceeding undeterred by threats from animal rights groups. Plans have already been concluded to start a plant that may slaughter as many as 200,000 horses a year, possibly in Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska or Missouri. However, most of the meat will be exported to Europe and Asia. The pro-slaughter non-profit group United Horsemen, says many American investors have shown interest in establishing horse slaughter and meat processing plants. Dave Duquette, president of Unite Horsemen, said:
"I have personally probably five to 10 investors that I could call right now if I had a plant ready to go. If one plant came open in two weeks, I'd have enough money to fund it. I've got people who will put up $100,000."
Pro-Slaughter activists say there is need for horse slaughterhouses because when horses get old and unfit for work they have to be sold for meat. But since the ban on funding of inspection of horse meat owners have been forced to ship their horses to Canada and Mexico under poor conditions. Statistics reveal that 138,000 horses were transported to Canada and Mexico from the U.S. in 2010, just about the same number slaughtered in the country before the ban in 2007.
According to Wyoming state lawmaker and vice-president of United Horsemen Sue Wallis, "an entire sector of animal agriculture " was devastated for "purely sentimental and romantic notions."
AP reports horse meat consumption has largely died out in America since the 1940s and that horses are generally kept as pets and symbols of the West. The sale of horse meat for human consumption is banned in California and Illinois, and several other states regulate the sale of horse meat.