Federal spending bill bans horse slaughter

FILE - In this July 16, 2004 file photo provided by the Bureau of Land Management, wild horses are seen on the at the Pryor Mountain National Wild Horse Range in south-central Montana. The attorney for a New Mexico company that has been fighting to open a horse slaughter house says the company is not going to give up despite two lawsuits and Congressional action to block the resumption of domestic horse slaughter with a ban on funding for federal inspections at equine facilities. (AP Photo/Bureau of Land Management, Ann Boucher, File)

Before Christmas the struggle over the fate of America's horses had swung to the side of the pro-slaughter interests as an appellate court cleared the way for a processing plant to open in New Mexico.

What a difference a month makes.

Last night President Obama signed the massive spending bill which did not contain language authorizing funding for federal inspectors of horse slaughter plants, effectively barring the facilities from opening.

Without inspectors, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would not be able to conduct the mandatory inspections, thus reinstating a ban on domestic horse slaughter for at least the fiscal year. A similar spending prohibition had been put in place in 2005, but it was not renewed in 2011, leading operators in several states including Missouri, Montana and Iowa begin plans to open plants again. The last plant on U.S. soil closed in 2007 in Illinois.

Among the lawmakers leading the fight to strike the language from the bill before it was considered in the House Appropriations Committee was Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Meehan.

“I’m grateful that my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee have chosen to take action on this issue," said Meehan, a Republican. "Horse slaughter is not just an animal cruelty issue – it’s a significant public health hazard. With a domestic slaughter facility just days away from opening, it’s past time Congress take action to prohibit horse slaughter.”

While the spending bill only covers the fiscal year which ends Sept. 30,, the no-funding provision for inspectors would remain. There would have to be an affirmative effort to remove the prohibition in future appropriations legislation. 

The country's leading animal welfare groups-  the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States - along with Equine Advocates and a roster of celebrities, including Robert Redford, fought to keep the plants closed and applauded the action of Congress and the president.

“This clear message from Washington echoes the opinions of an overwhelming number of Americans from coast to coast: horse slaughter is abhorrent and unacceptable, said ASPCA president Matt Bershadker.

"Americans don't want our tax dollars spent butchering horses, so their meat can be frozen, shrink-wrapped, and sent to Belgium and Japan," said Michael Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. "Congress has rightly put a stop to the funding of this brutal practice on American soil, but now must ban the export of our horses to foreign countries where they are slaughtered for food."

Neither does the bill address the transport of horses to slaughter in Mexico and Canada which is where some 100,000 U.S, horses go to be killed and butchered for human consumption abroad each year

Animal welfare advocates urge Congress to pass the Safeguard American Food Exports Act, H.R. 1094 / S. 541, to outlaw horse slaughter operations in the U.S., end the current export of American horses for slaughter abroad, and protect the public from consuming toxic horsemeat.

(Video: Lynny Prince/"Ride it Out - A Song for Slaughter-bound Horses" contains images from Animals Angels horse slaughter investigations.)