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USDA Considers Reintroducing Horse Slaughter to US

Animals rights groups decry move, citing chemical contamination and rampant abuses

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

(Photo: katieharbath via Flickr)

Animal rights advocates are voicing outrage over attempts to push the US Department of Agriculture to expand the slaughtering of horses within the United States. 

Amid controversy over the infiltration of horsemeat into European beef supplies, the New York Times is reporting that the USDA is likely to approve a new horse slaughtering plant in Roswell, New Mexico within the next two months.

In 2005, after increasing pressure from animal rights advocates, Congress effectively shut down the industry by defunding inspections by the USDA. Now, the owner of the proposed slaughterhouse, the Valley Meat Company, is suing the USDA and their Food Safety Inspection Service, charging that the department’s failure to offer inspection of horse meat violates the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

Though popular in a number of countries and cultures, many are concerned by the high rate of chemicals—such as the prohibited carcinogen phenylbutazone—frequently found in horse meat. "US horses being sent to slaughter are overwhelmingly young sport horses," according to the Equine Welfare Alliance. The majority of those animals having been used in "rodeo and racing before being dumped to slaughter."

They continue:

Since the horses are a byproduct of these sports, they were not raised for slaughter and were almost universally given drugs prohibited in food animals. The low cost of these horses ($100 to $500) makes them far cheaper than beef, thus providing a huge incentive for the fraudulent substitution.

In addition to slaughter of sport horses, the practice of capturing and selling wild horses to slaughterhouses has been ongoing for years.

In their denouncement of the practice, animal rights groups also decry the cruelty of slaughtering these "companion" animals and cite rampant abuses at horse processing facilities. On their site the Humane Society of the US (HSUS) exposes a number of myths about the practice of killing horses for meat.

"It’s no easy thing to secure the food supply," writes HSUS President, Wayne Pacelle. "More than ever, it’s a global enterprise with supply chains stretching thousands of miles – a point of vulnerability for food safety and infiltration at the production, transport and processing stages. As The HSUS and so many other watchdog groups have pointed out, there are serious gaps in the system, along with disreputable people in the production and supply chain who can take advantage or corrupt it."

Valley Meat claims they are not planning to sell the horse meat in the United States, reports the Times, "at least at the outset of its operations."

“I’m sure if markets do develop in this country for horse meat for human consumption, they will look at them,” said A. Blair Dunn, the lawyer for Valley Meat.

Despite the recent lack in domestic horse slaughterhouses, in 2012 more American horses—about 167,000 according to Humane Society estimates—were slaughtered than any other year, since the practice of shipping captured and "retired" horses to Mexican and Canadian processing facilities has become more and more popular. 

This news comes as Europe grapples with a widespread mislabeling and contamination scandal, where horse meat has appeared in food products labeled 100 percent beef across the continent. Major companies, including Tesco, Nestlé and Ikea, have had to remove their products from shelves in 14 countries.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is taking on the fight against horse slaughter and have petitioned the USDA and the FDA to delay approval of any horse slaughter facility. 


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