Bills Seek to Ban Horse Processing, Export

A bi-partisan group of federal lawmakers have proposed legislation that would outlaw the export of horses for processing in Mexico and Canada as well as outlaw the export of U.S.-produced horsemeat for sale in foreign markets.

Horse processing has not taken place in the United States since 2007 when a combination of legislation and court decisions shuttered the last remaining horse processing plants in Illinois and Texas. Commercial U.S. horse slaughter became possible again in 2012 when Congress passed legislation that did not specifically deny the USDA the funding to carry out inspections at domestic horses processing plants. Since then, horse processing plants have been proposed in several states, including Wyoming and Missouri.

In December 2011, New Mexico businessman Rick De Los Santos submitted an application requesting the placement of USDA personnel to carry out horsemeat inspections at his Valley Meat Co., LLC plant in Roswell, N.M. USDA personnel subsequently conducted an application-related tour of De Los Santos' plant, and earlier this month, the USDA announced it would process De Los Santos application for inspections. De Los Santos said that once his application is approved and inspections begin, processing at the Valley Meat plant could begin shortly. Products derived from the facility would be sold to a client in Mexico, De Los Santos said.

But a pair of bills introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate on March 12 would forbid the export of meat derived from horses processed at a domestic plant such as the one De Los Santos proposes to open. The legislation would also forbid the export of horses from the United States to processing plants in Canada and Mexico.

Introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Patrick Meehan (Pa.) and Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) as HR 1094, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act of 2013, and S 541, introduced into the U.S. Senate by Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), would both prevent the reestablishment of the U.S. horse processing industry and would ban the export of horses for processing in Canada and Mexico. The legislation also forbids the export of horsemeat products for human consumption on grounds that meat products derived from U.S. horses could contain levels of phenylbutazone and other drugs that could be harmful to humans.

"American horses are not raised for food, and shouldn't wind up on consumers' plates," said Center for Science in the Public Interest Senior Atty. Sarah Klein.

Nancy Perry, senior vice president of government relations for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, praised the bills for proactively protecting consumers from potentially unsafe food products.

"The shocking discovery of horsemeat in mislabeled beef products across Europe underscores the threat to American health that could result should horse slaughter proponents be successful in bringing this grisly practice back to the United States," Perry said.

De Los Santos' attorney Blair Dunn said that the legislation would be devastating for his client and for U.S. horses as well.

"It would completely destroy my client and the business he has invested so much money in," Dunn said. "Also it puts into the mix another 200,000 horses (currently exported from the U.S. to Mexico and Canada for processing annually) that we don't know what to do with."

HR 1094 has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and to the Committee on Agriculture for review. Meanwhile S 541 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions for consideration.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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