Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Horse Slaughter Sides Agree on Food Safety Problem

Food Safety News

Before horses can again be slaughtered in the United States for human consumption,  USDA is going to have to get a harness on one food safety issue that all sides agree is a problem.

Unlike cows, pigs, sheep or goats, the 9 or 10 million horses in the United States are not being raised for food, and veterinarians treating horses for aliments use whatever drugs might help.  They are not constrained by the possibility of the meat being consumed by humans as with those other farm animals.

Consequently, in theory there is a greater problem of drug residue in horsemeat than in beef, pork or poultry.  And maybe there is even some common ground on the issue between those who favor and oppose horse slaughter.

In making her case that commercial horse slaughter would be far more humane than back road destruction of unwanted horses now occurring,  Wyoming's Sue Wallis points to "up to 200,000 toxic drug ridden domestic and wild horses per year" that are being killed and discarded.

Meanwhile, in petitions the Humane Society of the United States has filed with USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),  "Exhibit 1" is a 29-page list of 115 "banned and dangerous substances commonly given to horses sent to slaughter."

HSUS and Colorado-based Front Range Equine Rescue are petitioning USDA for rules and regulations to cover the "sale, transport and processing of horses" for human consumption.

Wallis says that petition "seeks to demolish what is left of a beleaguered horse industry, and will only result in the increased suffering of horses.  She calls HSUS an "extremist animal rights organization."

Both the 89-page HSUS petition and the 105-page International Equine Business Association report, authored by Wallis, contain discussions of the drug issue.

San Francisco attorney Bruce Wagman, representing the animal rights groups, writes that many drugs routinely given to horses could result in "grave dangers if eaten by humans."

"Because of the possibility of unpleasant to fatal side effects, and the potential for crippling or chronic illnesses or even death that may result from the ingestion of meat tainted with these toxic chemicals, literally hundreds of products are clearly labeled 'Not for use in animals for food' or 'Not to be given to animals that will be eaten by humans' or some similar language,"  Wagman wrote.

Wagman, one of the most experienced animal rights attorneys in the country, argues in the petition that if a horse is exposed "even once" to these chemicals, it must be forever excluded from the human food supply.  "They cannot be slaughtered for human consumption and their flesh cannot be to turned into meat," he says.  

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection (FSIS) should--in Wagman's view--"eliminate the threat created by the slaughter of American horses for food, in order to prevent the spread of unsafe meat in America and throughout the world."

For its part, the International Equine Business Association--created by the Horse Welfare Association of Canada and United Horseman--is committed to broad-spectrum drug residue testing over eight broad categories of drugs.  Their list is not as long as Wagman's, but the approach is not unlike existing FSIS post-slaughter testing.

FSIS is tight-lipped about how it is proceeding on two requests for its inspection services for equine slaughter operations that would export horsemeat for human consumption.

The agency has declined to even share the applications it is believed to have received from:

-Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, NM

-Unified Equine in Rockville, MO

A ban of about five years on FSIS providing federal inspection services for horse slaughter ended a year ago in a budget deal between President Obama and Congress.

The ban was lifted after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the crisis that has developed since the last U.S. commercial horse slaughter operations were shut down in 2007.

In its budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, the U.S. House restores the ban just as it did last year when a Conference Committee overturned its will.

If the ban is restored, that may not be the end of it.  In its report to Congress, the IEBA  argues that such a ban would violate U.S. treaty obligations under the World Trade Organization (WTO) involving prohibiting or restricting certain products.

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