11/29/2011 6:38PM

Language banning horse slaughter is omitted from legislation

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By Matt Hegarty
A federal agriculture bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama on Nov. 18 did not include a prohibition on funding the inspection of horse meat for the first time since 2006, leading to concerns among some animal-rights organizations that horse slaughterhouses would reopen in the United States.

News of the removal of the prohibition clearly struck a nerve among many U.S. citizens - the term "horse slaughter" was a top search item on Wednesday, and many news agencies included articles about the removal in their top stories the same day. Many of the stories included the term "horse meat" in the headline.

Horse slaughter has never been technically illegal in the United States, but opponents of the practice forced the three slaughterhouses still operating in the country out of business by inserting a provision prohibiting the funding of horse-meat inspection in the 2006 appropriations bills for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That was the provision that was removed in the 2011 bill passed on Nov. 18.

A pro-slaughter group called United Horsemen led the push to strip the provision from the bill, contending that the slaughterhouses provide U.S. horse owners with the means to dispose of unwanted animals without incurring the expense of euthanasia. Critics of the slaughter of horses contend that the practice is inhumane and inappropriate for horses.

According to a study by the Government Accountability Office, 138,000 horses in the U.S., from a population of nine million, or 1.5 percent, were shipped to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada in 2010. The number was a 660 percent increase over 2007, the study said.

Citing those numbers and contending that Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses lack regulations, Ingrid Newkirk, the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday that PETA supported the re-opening of slaughterhouses in the U.S. so the practice could be regulated.

"The amount of suffering [the ban] created exceeded the amount of suffering it was designed to stop," Newkirk said.

The bill providing for the funding expires on Sept. 30, 2012. Another appropriations bill or continuing resolution will need to be passed then, and in the meantime, lobbyists for both sides are expected to argue for the reinstatement of a ban or the continuation of funding.

"I think it's hard to believe that slaughter facilities for horses are going to reopen in the U.S. in the next year with that sword of Damocles hanging over their head," said Jay Hickey, the president of the American Horse Council, which is neutral on the issue of horse slaughter."There's just too much uncertainty to invest millions of dollars in a processing plant right now."