February 15, 2006 -- Three slaughter plants have petitioned the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow the continued processing of horsemeat for human consumption.
An agriculture appropriations bill for 2006 passed by Congress in November 2005 included an amendment that removed funding for USDA inspection of horses. Such inspections are required before meat can be sold or exported for human consumption. The funding ban, slated to go into effect this spring, would temporarily end the slaughter of American horses for human consumption.
Shortly after the legislation was approved, the three slaughter plants that process horses--two in Texas and one in Illinois--petitioned the USDA to expand its fee-for-service program, which under certain circumstances allows slaughter facilities to shoulder the cost of government inspection themselves. The fee-for-service program already provides for inspection of exotic animals such as water buffalo, antelope and rabbits.
"We are simply asking that horses be added to the list of meats inspected under the fee-for-service program," says James Tucker, general manager of Caval International, Inc., a slaughter facility in DeKalb, Ill. Tucker says that if the request is not granted, the plant "would most likely close." He estimates that the facility currently employs 60 people full-time.
In response to the petition, several antislaughter organizations signed a 17-page letter of protest to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.
"We've retained a law firm and sent a letter to the USDA letting them know that we will consider legal action against the federal government if they make any provisions allowing the slaughter of horses to continue," says Chris Heyde of the Society for Animal Protective Legislation. "To do so would show a phenomenal and blatant disregard for the intent of the law."
This article originally appeared in the March 2006 issue of EQUUS magazine.