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November 30, 2011

Domestic Horse Slaughter Prohibition Lifted

On Nov. 18, President Obama signed into law an agriculture appropriations bill, which, among many other provisions, lifted a 5-year prohibition on funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections at horse processing facilities.

The funding prohibition that effectively banned horse slaughter in the United States from 2007-2011 was always a passive measure rather than an active one, preventing slaughter by prohibiting funds for required inspections. The new law doesn’t actively re-instate horse slaughter for human consumption, which was never illegal. Rather, the language about prohibiting funding for inspections has been removed.

While the provision was lifted, the appropriations bill does not include any money to pay for horsemeat inspections.

However, the USDA issued a statement saying there are no slaughterhouses in the United States 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.

A report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in June found that 137,984 horses were exported for slaughter in 2010.

Slaughter proponents like Dave Duquette, founder and president of the nonprofit organization United Horsemen, argue that the welfare of unwanted and slaughter-bound horses was at risk under the prohibition.

“I do not want to see horses suffer, starve and die, and at the bottom of the market, people are stuck with horses that they can’t get rid of,” said Duquette, noting that in the present economic climate, the prohibitive cost of euthanasia for unwanted horses can lead to cases of neglect. 

Citing animal behavior specialist Temple Grandin as an advisor, Duquette estimates that retrofitted processing plants, privately funded by U.S.-based investors, could re-open within 60 days, though they’ll be subject to state legislation. Duquette’s organization will also promote an International Do Not Slaughter Registry through which horses may be registered via microchip, and their registrants notified should those horses turn up at a processing plant.

But for Michael Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the bill was disconcertingly retrogressive.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the committee took this step backward for America’s iconic horses and is willing to waste tax dollars on the cruel horse slaughter industry,” said Markarian in his blog, adding that the legislation will likely face court challenges.

“Americans don’t eat horses, and they don’t want them inhumanely killed, shrink-wrapped, and sent to Japan or Belgium for a high-priced appetizer,” Markarian said.

Instead, the HSLF is one of several organizations supporting passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 2966/ S. 1176), a bill introduced and referred to House and Senate committees this summer, which would ban both the domestic and exported slaughter of U.S. horses.

Learn more about the current state of horse slaughter in North America.

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