By Carey Gillam
March 1 Animal rights groups are threatening to
sue the U.S. government if officials move ahead with plans to
allow meat-packing companies to resume the slaughter of horses
for human consumption, a practice that was banned in 2006.
"It's a big fight," said Wayne Pacelle, president of the
Humane Society of the United States. "We will sue if we have to.
We're also working with Congress to stop this."
Congress lifted a 2006 ban in the fiscal 2012 appropriations
act and since then "several" companies have asked for government
inspections that would allow them to start slaughtering horses,
according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Without new action by Congress, the department has no choice
but to allow slaughterhouse inspections to proceed, USDA said.
Though horse meat cannot be sold in the United States for human
consumption, it could exported.
Indeed, USDA notified Valley Meat Co. of Roswell, New
Mexico, this week that the company's application for inspections
would be approved after an extended delay, according to Valley
Meat owner Ricardo De Los Santos.
Valley Meat filed suit against the USDA for delaying the
process after it shut down beef operations and retrofitted its
plant to allow for horse slaughter, said De Los Santos.
The company slaughtered cattle for two decades but closed
that business down as drought and poor market conditions eroded
profits, said De Los Santos. With roughly 130,000 horses
currently estimated to be shipped out of the United States
annually to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico, horse
slaughtering seems like a viable market, he said.
"We've always killed cows. But business has slowed down and
we're looking at things we can do to keep operating," De Los
Santos told Reuters.
The last U.S. plants to slaughter horses for human
consumption were shut in 2007, after Congress banned the USDA
from funding the required inspections of the plants. That
measure was renewed every year until 2011.
Horse meat is sold for human consumption in China, Russia,
Mexico and other foreign countries, and is sometimes used as
feed for zoo animals.
A scandal continues to roll in Europe after testing in
Ireland in January found that some products marketed as beef
contained equine DNA.
The contamination has since been found in Taco Bell products
as well as spaghetti Bolognese and beef lasagna, according to
British regulators, in the meatballs sold by Sweden's IKEA
furniture superstore in much of Europe, and in other outlets.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals (ASPCA), Front Range Equine Rescue, and Animal
Protection of New Mexico joined the Humane Society in saying
they would try to beat back the decision to process inspection
applications for horse slaughter.
USDA faced criticism in 2012 when plans were announced for a
horse slaughter plant in Rockville, Missouri. Those plans have
been put on hold.
De Los Santos, though, said he has been forced to lay off
his 40 employees awaiting government action since Valley Meat
filed its application over 18 months ago. He has been fielding
threatening phone calls and an onslaught of insults after word
got out this week about his plans.
"They call and tell me 'I'm a murderer, I have blood on my
hands,'" he said. "They pick on the little guys, not the big
beef packers. I have to make a living one way or the other."