Could horse slaughter return to Pennsylvania?

In a word, yes.

After a five-year ban - funding has once again been approved for federal inspections of horse meat inspections, plans are afoot in at least eight states to build plants that would once again butcher horses in the United States.

Slaughter proponents estimate as many as 120,000 horses would be slaughtered annually in U.S. plants  - about the same number now being hauled to plants in Canada in Mexico.

Among the states where investors are considering putting plants Wyoming, North Dakota, Oregon, Nebraska and Georgia.

Pennsylvania would be an ideal location.

Pennsylvania is home to the largest livestock auction in the East - in New Holland, Lancaster County - one that sends hundreds of horses to slaughter in Quebec, Canada each year.

Pennsylvania provides an ample supply of slaughter-bound horses: race track losers, spent brood mares and washed up Amish buggy and plow horses.

Neither the state Department of Agriculture, nor the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau had as of Thursday heard of any talk of building a new plant here - the last one closed in the 1950s or 60s - back in the days when horse meat was used in commercial dog food.

Here's how the Associated Press described what happened in Congress:

Slaughter opponents pushed a measure cutting off funding for horse meat inspections through Congress in 2006 after other efforts to pass outright bans on horse slaughter failed in previous years. Congress lifted the ban in a spending bill President Barack Obama signed into law Nov. 18 to keep the government afloat until mid-December.

It did not, however, allocate any new money to pay for horse meat inspections, which opponents claim could cost taxpayers $3 million to $5 million a year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture would have to find the money in its existing budget, which is expected to see more cuts this year as Congress and the White House aim to trim federal spending.

The USDA issued a statement yesterday 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.

Animal welfare activists are girding for fights at the state level.

"If plants open up in Oklahoma or Nebraska, you'll see controversy, litigation, legislative action and basically a very inhospitable environment to operate," said Wayne Pacelle, president of The Humane Society of the United States. "Local opposition will emerge and you'll have tremendous controversy over slaughtering Trigger and Mr. Ed."

But pro-slaughter activists - among them, the American Veterinary Medical Association - say the ban has led to an increase in neglect and the abandonment of horses.

They say wouldn't a horse better off with a bolt to its head then starving in a field?

How about less indiscriminate breeding? Or humane euthanasia by a veterinarian? say animal welfare advocates.

"Euthanasia has always been an option," Pacelle told the Associated Press. But "if you acquire a horse, you should be a responsible owner and provide lifetime care."

Slaughter proponents say the $300-$500 you'd spend for a horse-sized dose of sodium pentobarbital could be cash in your pocket from the kill buyers at the auction house. 

They say there will be more jobs and more meat money in it for horse owners

Sue Wallis, a Wyoming state lawmaker, and vice president for United Horsemen, told the AP that ranchers used to be able to sell horses that were too old or unfit for work to slaughterhouses but now they have to ship them to butchers in Canada and Mexico, where they fetch less than half the price.

The federal ban devastated "an entire sector of animal agriculture for purely sentimental and romantic notions," she said.

Among the U.S. Senators who ensured the federal ban was lifted was Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl - chairman of the agriculture subcommittee that inserted the language. (Kohl's family founded Kohl's Department Store chain and he is the uncle of anti-puppy mill activist Jana Kohl.)

Other members of Congress are urging passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, banning the sale of U.S. horses for slaughter. Period. That means no slaughter in this country and no shipping elsewhere in North America.

"I am committed to doing everything in my power to prevent the resumption of horse slaughter and will force Congress to debate this important policy in an open, democratic manner at every opportunity," said sponsor Rep. Jim Moran (D., VA) in a statement.

Lawmakers in California and Illinois have banned the slaughter of horses for human consumption, and more than a dozen states tightly regulate the sale of horse meat.

In Pennsylvania, Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) told us he is looking into the Illinois and California laws and said he may introduce anti-slaughter legislation here in the next few weeks.