The prospects of a resurrected horse slaughter industry in the United States are fading fast, with a huge spending bill to be considered by Congress this week set to refuse federal funding for the inspections required for the plants to operate.
However, the omnibus bill is set to go one step further, with a stipulation that funding cannot be restored unless the Food and Drug Administration makes a determination that meat from American horses can be made safe.
The last three plants on US soil closed in 2007 under state laws, with Congress defunding required inspections which made it impossible for them to open in other states. This remained the case until 2011, when the defunding language was removed by a small conference subcommittee from an agriculture bill.
At least three plants have made efforts to reopen since, with horse advocacy groups taking legal action in a bid to stop them.
The Equine Welfare Alliance, an umbrella group for horse advocates, welcomed the bill and its defunding provisions, which are highly unlikely to be changed by Congress at this late stage.
It was pleased also with the rider that funding cannot be restored until and unless the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that meat from American horses could be made safe to enter the food supply.
“The FDA regulates which drugs are safe in meat animals as well as their withdrawal times,” the alliance said in a statement.
“The FDA currently categorizes horses as companion (non-food) animals. Such a determination would most probably require a reduction in the drugs available to treat horses and an increase in the required tracking of such treatments as is currently done with meat animals.”
Defunding language was passed by both the House and the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committees in 2013 with major majorities, but neither budget reached the floor for a full vote.
Last week, with key support from Vice-President Joe Biden and congressional leaders, the defunding language was put into the omnibus bill.
“Victoria McCullough was the one who made this happen,” alliance president John Holland said.
“It was the fact that Victoria, an accomplished international equestrian and chief executive of Chesapeake Petroleum, was spending her own fortune without regard for any personal gain that I believe gave her the credibility to accomplish this.”
Holland said the success of the effort surprised many in Washington, since the budget had uncharacteristically little in the way of riders. Separate legislation would be needed to be passed to stop the export of US horses to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, he noted.
The chief executive and president of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, also welcomed the bill.
“Americans do not want to see scarce tax dollars used to oversee an inhumane, disreputable horse slaughter industry,” Pacelle said.
“We don’t have dog and cat slaughter plants in the US catering to small markets overseas, and we shouldn’t have horse slaughter operations for that purpose, either.”
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) expressed its delight, saying it had worked hard to ensure no tax dollars were spent on plant inspections.
“We worked closely with other animal welfare organizations, consumer safety groups, as well as thousands of citizens representing the 80 percent of Americans that oppose horse slaughter, and Congress has listened.
“The message from Capitol Hill is loud and clear on this issue: Our horses deserve better and this dangerous industry must not be tolerated. Horse slaughter has no business here.
“Tonight, we finally know that this horse slaughter funding limitation is intact. Congress is not expected to make any changes to the bill text at this stage of the game, so the writing is on the wall for any efforts to open horse slaughter plants in the US.
“Both chambers are expected to pass the bill, and the president is expected to sign it into law, later this week.”
The ASPCA said Congress now needed to take the final step in protecting America’s horses by passing the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (H.R. 1094/S. 541) to prevent both the slaughter of American horses for human consumption in this country, and their export for that purpose abroad.
Meanwhile, in New Mexico, State District Judge Matthew Wilson heard seven hours of testimony and arguments in the bid by Valley Meat Company to open its horse slaughter plant near Roswell.
The plant faces a challenge by the state’s attorney general, Gary King, who is concerned about the potential for drug residues in the meat and the company’s previous non-compliance on discharge consents.
Judge Wilson delayed his ruling until Friday at the conclusion of Monday’s hearing.
Victoria McCullough, in a conversation with the Equine Welfare Alliance, asked that her gratitude go out to the many friends of horses in government who helped her, including Vice PresidentBiden, Frank Biden, State Senator Joseph Abruzzo, Senator Tom Harkin (IA), Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz (FL), Representative Tom Rooney (FL), Senator Mikulski (MD), Senator Mark Kirk (IL), Senator Dick Durbin (IL), Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Jessica Feingold-Lieberson and many others.