Horses could soon be butchered in the U.S. for human consumption after Congress quietly lifted a 5-year-old ban on funding horse meat inspections, and activists say slaughterhouses could be up and running in as little as a month.
Slaughter opponents pushed a measure cutting off funding for horse meat inspections through Congress in 2006 after other efforts to pass outright bans on horse slaughter failed in previous years. Congress lifted the ban in a spending bill President Barack Obama signed into law Nov. 18 to keep the government afloat until mid-December.
It did not, however, assign any new money to pay for horse meat inspections, which opponents claim could cost taxpayers $3 million to $5 million a year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture would have to find the money in its existing budget, which is expected to see more cuts this year as Congress and the White House aim to trim federal spending.
The USDA issued a statement Tuesday saying there are no slaughterhouses in the U.S. that butcher horses for human consumption now, but if one were to open, it would conduct inspections to make sure federal laws were being followed. USDA spokesman Neil Gaffney declined to answer questions beyond what was in the statement.
Barbara Beck is a volunteer state leader for American's Against Horse Slaughter. "President Obama made a campaign promise to end horse slaughter and transportation outside of the United States. He has gone against his promise," Beck said.
The American's Against Horse Slaughter group is concerned about the way the horses are put down, claiming that they use a device devised for cattle, and it does not work correctly on horses, causing the horses unnecessary pain."This is wrong on so many levels," Beck said.
The group advocates responsible ownership of a horse, and encourages owners who can't afford to own a horse to take the animals to a shelter or pay to have a vet euthanize the horse.
However, pro-slaughter activists say the ban had unintended consequences, including an increase in neglect and the abandonment of horses, and that they are scrambling to get a plant going- possibly in Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska or Missouri. They estimate a slaughterhouse could open in 30 to 90 days with state approval and eventually as many as 200,000 horses a year could be slaughtered for human consumption. Most of the meat would be shipped to countries in Europe and Asia, including France and Japan.
A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office determined that about 138,000 horses were transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter in 2010, nearly the same number that were killed in the U.S. before the ban took effect in 2007. The U.S. has an estimated 9 million horses.
But U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., is lobbying colleagues to permanently ban horse slaughter because he believes the process is inhumane.
"I am committed to doing everything in my power to prevent the resumption of horse slaughter and will force Congress to debate this important policy in an open, democratic manner at every opportunity," he said in a statement.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report>