04/11/2013 4:34PM

Federal proposed budget language prohibits horse slaughter

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The United States Department of Agriculture has included language in its 2014 budget proposal that would prevent horse slaughterhouses from reopening legally in the United States, according to a New York Times report.

USDA secretary Tom Vilsack’s current budget submission, which will be considered by Congress as part of a federal budget bill, specifically denies funding salaries or personnel to inspect horses at slaughter facilities.

In 2005, federal lawmakers removed funding for inspections at horse slaughterhouses; without those inspections, the meat could not be exported to international markets. That contributed to the closure of domestic legal horse slaughter plants in the United States by 2007, although U.S. horses continue to be exported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter. In 2011, Congress voted to restore funding for federal meat inspectors at equine slaughter facilities starting during fiscal year 2012.

No equine slaughterhouses are currently operating in the U.S., but Valley Meat Co. and several other companies have applied for permits or are considering opening such facilities. Late last year, the Valley Meat Co. of New Mexico sued the United States Department of Agriculture and agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack in federal court to challenge what Valley Meat termed “recent failure to provide inspections for horses for human consumption ... in contravention of an unequivocal Congressional command.”

That case alleges that the USDA has delayed in acting on Valley Meat’s equine slaughter application, costing the company hundreds of thousands of dollars. The suit is ongoing. An attorney for Valley Meat told the New York Times: “I know of a few members of Congress who are not likely to let it remain in the budget. All this means is more debate and more hardship for my clients, because they’ve made these investments to modify their plant already.”

The latest defunding move comes at a time when European food retailers are dealing with a widespread scandal involving horsemeat and the drug residues in it. Numerous countries’ authorities have found horsemeat in products labeled as beef or other meat, and recently Britain’s Asda supermarket chain recalled some of its corned beef after testing revealed traces of phenylbutazone, or bute. The drug, a painkiller, is often prescribed to horses for a variety of ailments, and the European Union has banned it in slaughter animals.

On March 25, U. S. Representative Jim Moran of Virginia sent a letter to Vilsack urging the secretary to support defunding language for equine slaughter inspections under the USDA’s 2014 budget submission to Congress.

“At a time when USDA’s budget is diminished by budget cuts and sequestration, it would be irresponsible to divert millions of dollars a year to inspect horsemeat consumed entirely by foreign consumers,” Moran wrote. “Every dollar spent at horse slaughter plants would divert necessary resources away from beef, chicken, and pork inspections—meat actually consumed by Americans.”