Horses can now legally be butchered for human consumption in the U.S. after Congress lifted a ban on funding horse processing inspections this month.
The measure was part of an agriculture spending bill President Obama signed on Nov. 18, reversing the 2006 decision by Congress to defund horse meat inspections.
The likelihood of Americans dining on horses, however is slight since there is no culture of eating horse meat in this country, they are revered as pets and many states have strict controls on horse meat. California and Illinois have laws banning the consumption of horse meat.
The meat, however, could be exported to Europe and Asia.
Animal welfare advocates pushed for the ban when it passed five years ago, but horse industry advocates and the Government Accountability Office say the ban had a slew of unintended consequences: More horses were left abandoned when owners could no longer afford to keep them or use them for work; owners who wanted to sell their horses for slaughter were forced to have them shipped to Canada or Mexico, where slaughtering is legal; and horse prices became depressed in the United States, according to a report released by the GOA in June.
The last horse slaughterhouse in America closed in 2007 in Illinois, just months before the economic recession hit the country, according to the Associated Press. In the years since, horse abandonment and export has grown significantly, according to the GAO report.
In Colorado, for example, data showed that investigations for horse neglect and abuse increased more than 60 percent, from 975 in 2005 to almost 1,600 in 2009, the report said.
According to one advocate, the ban also forced the bottom to drop out of the horse industry entirely.
“It’s basic economics,” said David Duquette, president of United Horsemen, which advocated for lifting the ban. “Horses used to be a $102 billion a year industry, with at least 500,000 direct jobs in horse industry. That’s been cut in half.”
The ban was lifted quietly in this year’s agriculture spending bill. The Senate, breaking with the past five years of agriculture bills, did not include language on continuing the ban in their version of the bill. They attributed their decision to the GAO report, according to a Senate Appropriations Committee spokesman.
The House, as in previous years, did include the language to continue the ban. When lawmakers reconciled the two bills, the ban was not included.
One supporter of the bill, Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Nebraska, said the ban was bad policy.
” While we have a long way to go, responsible processing represents a vital first step in reversing the unintended consequences to blame for the dismal state of neglected horses and their frustrated caregivers across our country,” Smith said in a statement. “Reinstating a humane, accountable, and legal management tool is good for horses, good for owners, and is good policy.”
Now, advocates say that the $62 million-a-year slaughter industry could be back up and running in as little as 30 to 90 days.
“There are people from North Carolina all the way out West that are wanting to set up a (slaughter) plant or invest in a plant,” Duquette said. “There’s a tremendous amount of desire to get it going.”
Opponents of the measure say that they will fight any meat processing plants that open in the coming months.
“If plants open up in Oklahoma or Nebraska, you’ll see controversy, litigation, legislative action and basically a very inhospitable environment to operate,” Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of The Humane Society of the United States, told the Associated Press. “Local opposition will emerge and you’ll have tremendous controversy over slaughtering Trigger and Mr. Ed.”
The USDA issued a statement Tuesday saying there are no slaughterhouses in the U.S. that butcher horses for human consumption now, but if one were to open, it would conduct inspections to make sure federal laws were being followed. USDA spokesman Neil Gaffney declined to answer questions beyond what was in the statement.