USDA grants permit to allow for horse slaughter facility

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 28, 2013 - The USDA granted an inspection permit today to a New Mexico-based company paving the way for operations to begin at a horse slaughter facility - the first such plant in about seven years.

USDA spokesperson Courtney Rowe said the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is required, under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, to grant an inspection permit once a company has satisfied all federal requirements. Rowe said USDA expects to grant two more permits to other horse slaughter facilities next week.

“Since Congress has not yet acted to ban horse slaughter inspection, FSIS is legally required to issue a grant of inspection today to Valley Meats in Roswell, N.M., for equine slaughter,” Rowe said. “The administration has requested Congress to reinstate the ban on horse slaughter. Until Congress acts, the department must continue to comply with current law.”

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A prohibition on the sale of U.S. horse meat expired in 2011. Current law allows for the export of horse meat and for sales in the United States.

While horse meat is largely used in pet food, some markets exist for human consumption. Rick De Los Santos, Valley Meats owner, has said he plans to mainly export the horse meat.

Several parts of the country are experiencing a serious overpopulation of wild horses prompting many farmers and ranchers to hunt for a solution.

In response to the USDA's decision, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Front Range Equine Rescue said they plan to file suit “immediately against the USDA” in an attempt to halt the decision.

“The USDA's decision to start up domestic horse slaughter, while at the same time asking Congress to defund it, is bizarre and unwarranted,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, HSUS senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation. “Slaughter plants have a history of polluting their communities and producing horse meat that is tainted with a dangerous cocktail of banned drugs.

HSUS said USDA's approval is “particularly surprising” in the wake of recent developments in the European Union, where horse meat was found in products labeled as beef.

USDA countered by saying, “Because of FSIS' stringent inspection process, testing capabilities, and labeling requirements, American consumers should not be concerned that horse meat will be labeled and sold as the meat of another species, as happened earlier this year in other countries.”

Both the Senate and the House FY 2014 agriculture spending bills, which are pending, contain language aimed at blocking inspections of horse slaughter facilities. The administration supports the provision.

“Congress should promptly reinstate the provision that prohibited spending federal dollars to inspect horse slaughter facilities and I am encouraged my colleagues have taken steps to do so,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. “I will continue my work to prevent horse slaughter in the pending agriculture appropriations bill.” 

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said he was “deeply disappointed” with the USDA's decision and noted the pending congressional action on the issue.

“Congress completes consideration of this legislation in the coming months, I plan to redouble my efforts to defund horse slaughter inspections and shut down any facilities that may open,” Moran said.

Moran said each horse slaughter facility opened would cost taxpayers more than $400,000 per year in inspection and operation costs.

The other companies expected to receive USDA inspection permits are Rains Natural Meats in Missouri and Responsible Transportation in Iowa.

Responsible Transportation says its mission “is to improve the quality of life of the unwanted horse population through the development and application of innovative livestock handling practices, utilization of professionally supervised and government regulated euthanasia processes, and removal of the agonizing voyages to processing facilities outside the United States.”

Updated June 28, 2013, 5:45 p.m.

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