In a move that stunned horse lovers across the nation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has granted a permit to a New Mexico company to open the first commercial horse slaughter house on U.S. soil in since the last plant closed 2007.
The Valley Meat Co. plans to produce horse meat at its Roswell plant for export to other countries. such as Belgium and Japan, where people consume it.
The USDA said it could grant permits to plants in Iowa and Missouri early next week. Congress effectively banned horse slaughterhouses by stripping out funding for USDA inspectors in 2007.
The Obama administration - joined by New Mexico's governor and attorney general - has voiced opposition to slaughter and not recommended funding for inspectors in its 2014 budget request.
At the same time members of Congress have pushed for legislation banning the slaughter of all U.S. horses for meat. Currently more than 100,000 horses are shipped to abittoirs in Quebec and Mexico.
Animal welfare groups expressed shock and anger over the decision. The Humane Society of the United States .and Front Range Equine Rescue announced they would file suit to block the plant from opening.
When the issue first arose several months ago, agriculture officials here said there were no plans to open a horse slaughter plant in Pennsylvania, though it would be a logical place given the presence of New Holland Stables auction house, the largest in the East.
Tens of thousands of horses - many thoroughbreds, Amish plow and buggy horses and backyard family horses - get sold at auction there each year, many of them ending up at slaughter plants in Canada.
The American Welfare Institute said: "This surprising move to reopen a horse slaughter plant defies common sense, given Congress’s recent votes to eliminate funding for such inspections and the scandal in the European Union, where horse meat was found to be mislabeled as beef in prepared food products."
From the ASPCA: "The writing is on the wall – Americans don’t want our horses slaughtered, here or in any other country. Moving ahead with a government program to fund horse slaughter inspections is a cruel, reckless and fiscally irresponsible move,” said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA government relations. “Recent polling shows that 70 percent of New Mexicans, along with the overwhelming majority of Americans, are opposed to the slaughter of U.S. horses for human consumption. Given the recent firestorm of concern and outrage over horse meat entering the food supply in Europe, this decision is shocking. The USDA is knowingly diverting tax dollars from programs that protect American consumers to programs that jeopardize them. It is time for Congress to take action to prevent American horses from suffering this terrible fate and stop horse slaughter in the U.S. once and for all.”
From the HSUS: “The USDA’s decision to start up domestic horse slaughter, while at the same time asking Congress to defund it, is bizarre and unwarranted,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The HSUS, said in a statement. “Slaughter plants have a history of polluting their communities and producing horse meat that is tainted with a dangerous cocktail of banned drugs. We intend to hold the Obama administration accountable in federal court for this inhumane, wasteful and illegal decision.”
Horse slaughter proponents say there's a need for a way to dispose of unwanted horses. But animal welfare advocates call the process inherently cruel and often erroneously compared to humane euthanasia.
Here's how the Animal Welfare Institute described what happens to a horse en route to and at slaughter:
The methods used to slaughter horses do not always result in quick, painless deaths, as horses are difficult to stun and may remain conscious during their butchering and dismemberment. Whether slaughter occurs in the U.S. or abroad, these equines typically suffer abuse even before they arrive at the slaughterhouse, often transported for more than 24 hours at a time without food, water or rest, and in dangerously overcrowded trailers where the animals may be seriously injured or even killed in transit. The majority of horses killed for human consumption are young, healthy animals who could go on to lead productive lives with loving owners. Last year, more than 160,000 American horses were sent to a cruel death by a grisly foreign industry that produces unsafe food for consumers.
New Mexico State Land Commissioner Ray Powell, a veterinarian, said local, state and federal leaders should work to create solutions to provide sustainable funding to find humane euthanasia solutions.
"Continuing to ignore the plight of starving horses, creating a new horse slaughter plant, or exporting unwanted horses to Mexico won’t solve this problem,” he said.