While the idea of the legal operation of a commercial horse slaughtering facility sparks an emotional response on both sides of the issue, New Mexico lawmakers supporting New Mexico House Joint Memorial 16 last week say the issue is more about the humane disposal of unwanted horses than it is about producing horse meat for human consumption.

The bill, rejected by the New House Feb. 7 by a vote of 28 to 36, would have required the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to study the feasibility of the reintroduction of a horse slaughter and meat processing facility if approved. Supporters of the bill argued the issue is more about the inhumane practice of neglect and abandonment of unwanted horses than it is about the processing of meat.

The last horse slaughter facility and meat processing plant in the U.S. closed its doors in 2006 after federal funding ended for United States Department of Agriculture inspections of slaughterhouses. But in late 2011, President Obama signed into law a broader bill that reverses the ban on the funding, leading to the possibility that horse slaughter would resume in the United States. Federal legislation actually banning the process of horse slaughter has failed to pass Congress, but no new slaughterhouses have opened in the U.S. since funding for inspections was resumed.

HJM 16, introduced by Rep. Paul C. Bandy (R-Aztec), was approved by the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee and forwarded to the Appropriations and Finance Committee before progressing to the House floor for a vote late last week. A companion bill, also introduced by Bandy, would have made $20,000 in state funding available to researchers at New Mexico State University to study the issue.

Horse slaughter crosses many of the traditional lines between supporters of the livestock industry and typical pro-animal rights groups who traditionally oppose almost all slaughterhouse operations. Unlike most black and white issues, while most animal activists argue vehemently against horse slaughter, a few among their ranks reluctantly admit properly regulated and operated slaughterhouse operations can help provide a humane solution to a troubling problem.

On the other side of the issue, many ranchers, livestock producers and even beef slaughter processors side with activists, arguing that horses have long been companion animals to cowboys and frontiersmen and not an animal that should be processed for human consumption.