USDA Considers Inspection Alternative

Horsemeat processing plants in Texas and Illinois have petitioned the USDA to allow plants to pay inspectors' salaries on a per-service basis, according to Steven Cohen, a USDA spokesperson. The Nov. 23, 2005, petition was in response to the passage of the 2006 Agriculture Appropriations bill (section 794), which prohibits using federal funding for horsemeat inspections after March 10, 2006.

According an article in The Star-Telegram online, the Texas-based plants make $41 million per year, have combined payrolls of $11 million, and pump about $6 million into the air freight industry. Additionally, the Illinois-based Cavel International spends about $1.5 million transporting livestock and another $8 million purchasing livestock. The plants have a similar system in place for inspection of other species such as elk.

The petition is unsettling to the bill's advocates. "The petition from the slaughter houses requested that the public comment period be suspended, saying that it would be in the public's interest," said Nancy Perry, vice president of the Humane Society of the United States. "I don't see how that is in the public's best interest. However, we are anticipating that the USDA will provide some type of public session."

Representatives Ed Whitfield (R-KY), John Sweeney (R-NY), John Spratt (D-SC), and Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), who support the legislation, sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns stating that any attempt to implement pay-for-service inspections would undermine the legislation's intent to stop horse slaughter.

In response, James Michael Kelly, the Secretary of Agriculture's acting general counsel, wrote that the new law doesn't prohibit the USDA from providing inspectors. He wrote, "In fact, section 794 (of the bill) does not prevent horse slaughter (see"

"The department's legal position is that the amendment only affects the funding for inspections of horses," Cohen said. "The legal analysis supports the idea that the USDA is obligated under the law to perform these inspections, and we have an obligation to make sure the meat and carcasses are safe and wholesome."

About the Author

Chad Mendell

Chad Mendell is the former Managing Editor for .

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