Will Domestic Horse Slaughter Make A Comeback?

Defending Agriculture

When USDA banned horse slaughter, horse abuse and neglect soared

Published on: February 4, 2013

On October 19, 2012, Valley Meat Company, LLC in New Mexico filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleging that it is not complying with a congressional mandate which reinstituted funding in 2012 for inspection of the slaughter of horses.

Valley Meat complains that USDA has "…altered its stance on this issue [horse slaughter inspection] due to political and special interest pressure, effectively allowing the issue to become politicized." (Valley may be correct!)

Valley Meat wants a U.S. District Court to compel USDA to provide inspectors who are appointed under the Federal Meat and Inspection Act to inspect horses, before they enter a slaughter facility and also inspect carcasses to determine they are not adulterated and passed into the human food supply.

USDA, according to the complaint, told Valley Meat that it would "…immediately provide inspections now that funding had been reinstituted." The complaint states Valley has completed all necessary requirements, has worked with USDA and other experts, and is ready to immediately begin a horse slaughter operation.

Stiff headwinds

Valley is running into stiff headwinds on this issue. Domestic slaughter of horses ended in 2006. Congress, in its infinite wisdom, passed a prohibition on USDA using federal funds to inspect horse slaughter plants. Lack of USDA inspectors effectively ended the industry in the United States. It did not end horse slaughter in other countries.

The Government Accountability Office issued a report in June 2011, entitled Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter, which basically said Congress made a major mistake in prohibiting domestic slaughter of horses. Congress had directed GAO to examine horse welfare since the cessation of domestic slaughter in 2007.

GAO found that the slaughter horse market shifted out of the United States to Canada and Mexico. Approximately 138,000 horses were slaughtered per year in the U.S. prior to the cessation (Canada and Mexico now take U.S. horses for slaughter.)  Since the cessation, states such as California, Texas and Florida are reporting numbers of horses abandoned on private and state land.

Colorado data, according to GAO, demonstrated that horse neglect and abuse increased more than 60% in 2009. State, local, tribal and horse industry officials told GAO that increases in horse neglect and abandonment was due to a lack of domestic slaughter facilities and the economic downturn.

The legislation approving USDA inspectors for horse slaughter facilities was approved on Nov. 18, 2011. To this day, USDA has not provided inspectors to slaughter facilities such as Valley Meat Company!

Valley Meat requests a U.S. District Court to issue an order, "Declaring that the USDA's failure to issue Grants of Inspection of Equine Animals for Human Consumption is arbitrary and capricious, and not in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act, FY 2012 Appropriations Act, and the Federal Meat and Inspection Act." It also requests the court "…command USDA to immediately issue the appropriate Grant of Inspection to Plaintiff;"

Enter HSUS and Front Range Equine Rescue

The Humane Society of the United States and Front Range Equine Rescue on Jan. 14, 2013, filed a Motion to Intervene in Valley Meat's case.

HSUS claims that USDA's current inspection testing and protocols are insufficient to prevent adulterated horse meat from entering the nation's food supply. HSUS filed petitions on March 26, 2012, asking for new rules to be adopted to regulate the production of horse meat for human consumption in the U.S. (This rulemaking could take years.)

The intent is clear from the court filing. "HSUS has also been working to prevent the institution of renewed horse slaughter in the United States, placing significant valuable resources into that campaign, and as a co-petitioner with FRER on the rule making petitions before USDA and the FDA."  

HSUS is making its views known to Valley Meat and to those in favor of horse slaughter when it claims in its motion that it is still supporting legislation directed at "…prohibiting horse slaughter and the transport of horses for slaughter."

GAO's report is recommended reading.  It shows horses are now subjected to abandonment, starvation, and cruelty. GAO claims that horses are traveling by truck over significantly greater distances to reach their final destination in foreign countries and the horses are not covered by U.S. humane slaughter protections.

The courts will have the last word on whether domestic horse slaughter will get on track once again in the U.S.