The issue of whether horses will be slaughtered at processing plants in New Mexico or anywhere else in the nation may be resolved—at least for the present.
The House Appropriations Committee last week approved a $19.45 billion funding bill to support the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and other agencies for fiscal year 2014. In what some are calling an unexpected move, the bill would ban funding for USDA horse slaughter inspections.
The Committee staged an unscheduled voice vote after an amendment to the bill was offered by Reps. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Bill Young (R-FL) that would prohibit USDA funding for horse slaughter inspections. The move essentially bans horse slaughter practice in the United States in the new fiscal year.
The issue came the same day the House voted against the passage of a new Farm Bill.
Reactions from opponents to the horse slaughter issue were quick. Animal welfare groups publicly praised the action saying a ban on horse slaughter operations was necessary to prevent animal abuse and to minimize risks to human health.
A Roswell-based New Mexico slaughterhouse, Valley Meat Company, was not readily available for comment, but company owner Rick del los Santos has a pending law suit against USDA over a lack of action on a request for renewed inspections at his facility. Santos has accused USDA of being swayed by political pressure and of being unresponsive to what he termed “legitimate requests” to provide inspection services.
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In addition to Valley Meat Company, groups in Oklahoma and Wyoming had recently considered horse slaughter operations in those states but were awaiting federal response or court action on the New Mexico lawsuit.
While many applauded the virtual ban on horse slaughter operations, many say it leaves the horse industry with few choices to deal with the growing problem of animal abandonment and neglect. As a result of two years of serious drought, forage crops remain in short supply and hay that is available demands a hefty price, forcing many horse owners to sell their horses at auction.
Moving the issue across the border
The crisis has forced sale prices down for horses and opened the doors to companies who purchase unwanted horses wholesale and then ship them to Mexico or Canada where they can be legally slaughtered. Proponents to horse slaughter operations in the U.S. argue the opportunity for animal cruelty runs high when horses are packed into trailers and trucks and shipped great distances to international borders. They say many animals die in route, and those that survive are often subjected to worse slaughter conditions than existed at U.S. processing facilities.
Some Native American tribes have also complained that feral horses, released by owners into the wilderness because of a lack of feed or resources, have decimated tribal grazing lands and a few have asked federal officials for compensation as a result of the damages.
In 2006, the last year horses could be legally slaughtered in the United States, nearly 143,000 horses were legally processed. But by some estimates, more than that number have been abandoned to die of starvation or transported to foreign destinations where they faced inhumane slaughter practices.
While the House Committee action stops inspections of horse slaughter facilities, opponents to the move argue it does nothing to bring a solution to the bigger issue of what to do to protect the animals and the horse industry at large that has suffered from a lack of policy action on the issue.
Concerning funding levels approved by the House Appropriations Committee, the bill provides less money for USDA overall, $1.3 billion lower than the current fiscal year and $516 million below President Obama’s budget request.
The $19.45 billion funding bill provides a modest boost to food safety, an increase of $27 million, while drug safety activities were increased by $2.5 million. But the Congressional Budget Office estimated that FDA would need about $1.4 billion in additional funding over five years to properly implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
The funding bill approved by the Committee must now go before the full House where it will likely be subject to a number of new amendments.