02/14/2006 1:00AM

Suit filed over slaughter


Six animal-rights organizations sued several officials of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday in an attempt to get the department to reverse a recent decision to allow U.S. slaughterhouses to pay federal officials for inspections of horse meat, several groups who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit said Tuesday.

The lawsuit was filed by the American Humane Association, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Doris Day Animal League, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Society for Animal Protective Legislation. The suit contends that the department's decision to allow the inspections "flouts Congressional intent" and "abrogates the public's right to comment" on the department's decision, according to a statement distributed by the Society for Animal Protective Legislation.

The suit names the agriculture department's secretary, Mike Johanns, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service administrator, Barbara Masters, as plaintiffs.

Last year, Congress passed legislation that prohibited tax dollars from being used to fund inspections at the three horse slaughterhouses operating in the United States for a one-year period. The bill passed by a vote of 269-158 in the House and 69-28 in the Senate.

Early this month, the agriculture department announced that it would implement a "fee-for-service" program that would allow the slaughterhouses to pay for federal inspections. The department said it had an obligation under existing law to provide services for inspection of horse meat.

"There is growing frustration among the public and members of Congress with this blatant disregard for a law overwhelmingly passed by the Congress and signed into law by the president," said Chris Heyde, the deputy legislative of director of the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, in a statement. "The U.S. Congress clearly responded to the American public's demand for an end to slaughter, and the USDA is choosing to violate this act."