Update: USDA Horse Slaughter Inspectors Face Elimination

The House of Representatives passed the 2006 Agriculture Appropriations bill (H.R. 2744) on June 8. Included in the bill was amendment 236, which will end funding for horse slaughter plant inspectors during the 2006 federal fiscal year.

The amendment states: "An amendment to prohibit the use of funds in the bill to pay salaries and expenses of personnel to inspect horses under the Federal Meat Inspection Act or under the guidelines issued under the Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act of 1996."

Without U.S. government inspectors in the horse processing plants, the horse meat cannot be sold for U.S. human consumption. The hope by anti-slaughter advocates is that this action will cause the three remaining U.S. horse slaughter facilities to close.

An emotional debate ensued on the Congressional floor when John Sweeney (R-NY) proposed the amendment. "Americans do not profit from slaughtering horses. Horses are not bred in the United States for that purpose,” he said, “This amendment simply says that the use of American taxpayer dollars to pay for the salaries and the work of USDA inspectors ought to stop, and those resources ought to be committed to making sure the food supply and the food chain here in this country are fully protected."

Henry Bonilla (R-TX) responded by saying, "This amendment will shut down an industry without having a hearing, or any due process. The amendment creates a crisis for animal health issues. It prohibits the USDA from inspecting horses that might have West Nile virus, or vesicular stomatitis, both of which can affect other animals or humans if those horses are destined for slaughter.

"The estimated cost to feed and care for 50,000 horses is at least $60 to $100 million per year. Who will pay, or will more horses go to the rendering plant instead? What is the real effect of this measure? There is no way of knowing, because it has not been vetted through the process,” he continued. "Demand for the product will not change. Almost all of the (horse) meat from the U.S. is exported, and those countries will simply find another source."

Steve King (R-IA) said, "One of the questions that has not been answered here is what is the distinction between a steer, a hog, and a horse? Why would we elevate the horse to a level beyond that of another animal? Does it have certain intrinsic value that distinguishes it?"

Countered Ed Whitfield (R-KY), "I think everyone would agree horses have not been raised for slaughter. Unlike cows, pigs, and chickens, they have not been raised for slaughter. Most importantly, we have an inconsistent policy in the U.S. government today on this issue. We prohibit sending horses out of America by sea for the purpose of slaughter, and yet we allow them to be slaughtered in the United States."

When speaking to The Horse after the passage of the legislation, Jim Tucker, plant manager of Cavel International in DeKalb, Ill., said he didn’t think this legislation would affect business at the plant except raising the cost of processing horses. In order to continue processing meat for human consumption, the plant would pay for approved inspectors.

"In terms of whether or not we pay for inspection, this will increase our costs," Tucker said. "Because it is a foreign market, we can't control price, and we'll have to find other ways of controlling costs, and that is generally in terms of paying farmers less for their horses. That would be the main impact."

Tucker noted that continuing down this road of inspector elimination could lead to the privatization of plant inspectors not just for horses, but all livestock. "If they (government) went so far as to take the USDA out of the picture of inspecting horse plants, that could create a private inspection service certified by the European Union that would do our inspections," said Tucker.

Tucker commented that he did not think this legislation is in the best interest of the horse industry. "I think this is something that needs a little more thoughtfulness than the 10 minutes it got on the floor," he said. "I think it is a little misguided to get at our industry by taking away inspections, especially an industry that produces a fairly large amount of foreign trade revenue for our country."

Karen Tomarinfritzwalpole, press secretary for the House Subcommittee on Agriculture, said, “Federally funded plants would no longer have their inspectors funded. If they get private funding, they can do it that way. Private inspectors could be used instead.”

Horse meat sales in the United States as of March 2005 totaled over $12 million, double the price sold at the same time last year.

About the Author

Marcella M. Reca Zipp, MS

Marcella Reca Zipp, M.S., is a former staff writer for The Horse. She is completing her doctorate in Environmental Education and researching adolescent relationships with horses and nature. She lives with her family, senior horse, and flock of chickens on an island in the Chain O'Lakes.

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