A meat plant in Sigourney, Iowa, has become the second operation to receive a U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS) permit to begin processing horses for human consumption. Just days earlier, Valley Meats Co. LLC, in Roswell, N.M., was granted a similar horse processing permit.
Horse processing has not taken place in the United States since 2007, when a combination of court rulings and legislation shuttered the last two domestic equine processing plants operating in Illinois and Texas. USDA/FSIS personnel carried out inspections at horse processing plants until the U.S. Congress voted to strip the USDA of funds to pay personnel conducting federal inspections at those plants. Since then horses have been transported to Mexico and Canada for processing.
USDA funding bills contained amendments denying funds to conduct horse processing plant inspections until November 2011, when Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed an appropriations bill that did not contain language specifically forbidding the agency from using federal dollars to fund horse slaughter plant inspections.
Last month, Valley Meats Co. LLC became the first plant to receive an FSIS permit to allow the placement of USDA personnel to inspect horsemeat for human consumption. On July 2 the USDA released a statement saying a second horse processing permit had been awarded to Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, Iowa, for equine slaughter.
"Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, FSIS must issue a grant of inspection once an establishment has satisfied all federal requirements as this plant has done," the USDA statement said. "FSIS anticipates one additional application for equine inspection could meet the mandated requirements in the coming days."
That third horse processing plant is expected to be located in Missouri, the USDA statement said.
Longtime horse processing advocate Sue Wallis, who is connected to the Missouri plant, declined comment about the horse processing plants.
Keaton Walker, president of Responsible Transportation, said that when fully operational, the Iowa plant will be capable of processing about 200 horses weekly and will employ approximately 25 people within the first year. The plant will derive its horses from "existing channels that send horses to Canada and Mexico," as well as "unwanted horses" from local owners, Walker said.
Walker said the plant can "provide a humane option" for horses nearing the end of their lives.
On July 3, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) along with the Marin California Humane Society, Front Range Equine Rescue, the Horses for Life Foundation, Return to Freedom, and five private individuals filed suit in U.S. District Court in northern California against USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Undersecretary for Food Safety Elizabeth Hagen, and FSIS Administrator Alfred V. Almonza.
The complaint alleges that, in granting the permits, the USDA and its agencies are in violation of federal environmental laws by undertaking a nationwide horse slaughter program that threatens the environment without complying with regulations mandated by Congress to protect the public and its water resources.
HSUS Spokesperson Holly Gans said the suit seeks an immediate injunction to prevent any domestic horse slaughter plant from opening on grounds that the USDA failed to conduct necessary environmental reviews relative to the New Mexico and Iowa plant openings.
That lawsuit remains pending.
Atty. Blair Dunn, who represents Valley Meat Co. LLC, said now that his client has received its FSIS permit, efforts to resume horse processing in the United States will focus on the lawsuit.
About the Author
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.