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February 21, 2006

Groups File Suit Against USDA Over Horsemeat Inspections

The backlash is growing against the U.S. Department of Agriculture after officials announced their intentions to allow horsemeat slaughter plants to pay the required inspectors themselves.

On Feb. 13 seven animal-rights organizations, as well as neighbors of the plants, jointly filed suit against the USDA.

The groups charge that the USDA is violating the language of the 2006 Agriculture Appropriations Act by allowing the three foreign-owned slaughter plants to implement a fee-for-service program. The appropriations act cut funding for horsemeat inspections, which proponents hoped would force the plants to shut down, since all meat for human consumption must be federally inspected.

Some 40 Senators and Representatives wrote a letter on Jan. 17 to Mike Johanns, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, decrying the USDA for allowing the slaughter plants to flaunt the intent of the act.

But officials at the USDA see their responsibilities differently. Steven Cohen, USDA spokesperson, stated that the bill only eliminated the funding for inspecting horsemeat, but did not remove the agency's legal responsibility to inspect horsemeat under the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

The text of the USDA's legal argument can be seen and commented on at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Frame/FrameRedirect.asp?main=/OPPDE/rdad/FRPubs/05-036IF.htm.

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Horse Slaughter