HSUS Requests Injunction to Halt Horsemeat Inspections

On Feb. 14, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other groups filed suit against the USDA to prevent equine slaughterhouses from using fee-for-service inspections of horsemeat. On Feb. 22, the groups filed for an injunction to prevent the inspections of horsemeat (scheduled to start March 10) until the lawsuit could be settled. In response, the USDA on Feb. 27 filed an opposition to the groups' request, alleging that the HSUS' legal arguments are flawed, and the merits of the lawsuit should be decided in court. The court has yet to rule on either request.

The HSUS was joined in its lawsuit by the Animal Welfare Institute, The Fund for Animals, the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, the Doris Day Animal League, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Humane Association, and residents living near the three U.S. horsemeat processing plants in Texas and Illinois.

The Feb. 14 suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleged that the USDA's fee-for-service inspections go against the Congressional intent of the 2006 Agriculture Appropriations bill, which eliminated funding for USDA inspections of horsemeat, and are in violation of the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). The HSUS also says the bill was intended to end the slaughter of some 65,000 horses in the United States, and citizens were denied an opportunity to comment on the fee-for-service program.

The USDA pointed out in its opposition that a call for comments was published in the Feb. 8 Federal Register when the fee-for-service program was announced. Comments will be accepted until March 10. (For more information on the program and comments see www.fsis.usda.gov/Frame/FrameRedirect.asp?main=/OPPDE/rdad/FRPubs/05-036IF.htm.)

The suit came less than a week after the USDA announced it would allow slaughter plants to pay for their own inspections. (For more information on the suit see www.TheHorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=6613.)

"The USDA's back-door maneuvering to keep the horse slaughter industry open for business when Congress expressly intended to shut it down is a blatant abuse of executive power and an outright violation of federal law," says Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the HSUS. "Clearly, the need for court action is in order, and until a decision is reached, the slaughter of American horses must be suspended."

According to Steven Cohen, USDA spokesperson, the bill did not affect the legality of horsemeat processing, it only eliminated funding for inspecting horsemeat. Cohen said the bill does not change the agency's legal responsibility to inspect horsemeat under the FMIA.

"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," Cohen said.

The three horsemeat processing plants still operating in the United States are Cavel in DeKalb, Ill., and Dallas Crown Inc. in Kaufman, Texas, and Beltex Corp. in Fort Worth, Texas. The plants already have a fee system in place to pay inspectors on a fee-for-service basis for other species such as elk, and for overtime and holiday pay.

About the Author

Chad Mendell

Chad Mendell is the former Managing Editor for TheHorse.com .

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