Senate Bill Could Resume Horsemeat Inspection Funding

Montana Senator Max Baucus is asking his U.S. Senate colleagues to pass an agriculture appropriations bill that could fund USDA horsemeat inspections at domestic processing plants. But some equine welfare advocates believe certain factors could prevent the bill from passing through the Senate intact.

Prior to 2005, USDA personnel carried out food safety inspections at horse processing plants in the U.S. In 2008 Congress voted to strip the USDA of funding for horsemeat inspections, but USDA personnel continued to carry out those inspections on a fee-for-service basis until 2007 when a federal court judge ruled against the arrangement. The combination of the funding prohibition and the court decision resulted in the decline of the horse processing industry in the U.S.

Language stripping the USDA of funding for horsemeat inspections did not appear in the original House Agricultural Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012. In response, Virginia Congressman Jim Moran introduced an amendment prohibiting the use of federal revenue to pay the salaries or expenses of USDA personnel to conduct horsemeat inspections at horse processing plants located in the U.S. On May 31, House Appropriations Committee members passed the Moran amendment.

However no such amendment was included in the Senate's Agricultural Appropriations bill for fiscal 2012. Though the Senate bill does not contain specific language to fund USDA horsemeat inspections, the bill as it stands could allow horsemeat inspection funding to be allocated.

"It's not what the bill says, it's what it doesn't say," said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of government relations for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "The bill is ready to go onto the Senate floor at any time, and as it stands there is no language such as the Moran amendment in the bill to prohibit funding."

In a Sept. 9 statement Baucus called on his colleagues to pass the bill intact on grounds that reestablishing the U.S. horse processing industry would enhance equine welfare.

"We've seen some pretty shocking cases across Montana of horse abandonment and neglect as owners face tough economic times," Baucus said. "This (horse processing) ban is a part of the problem and has resulted in the inhumane treatment of injured and sick horses along with hurting the economy. We have an opportunity here to do the right thing for our farmers and ranchers while improving the welfare of horses."

Perry said several scenarios could take place regarding the 2012 Senate Agricultural Appropriations bill's passage: "A Senate member could offer an amendment from the floor, or the Senate may not take up the bill in time to meet its legislative deadline. If that happens, there would have to be a Continuing resolution (CR) to continue USDA funding over the short term.

Continuing resolutions are legislation that allows funding for government agencies and entities over a specific period of time. A CR related to the Senate Agricultural Appropriations bill would retain USDA horsemeat inspection defending present in fiscal 2011 appropriations, Perry said.

Equine welfare advocate Jo Diebel, founder and director of Angel Acres Horse Haven Rescue in Glenville, Pa. said attempts to re-establish USDA horsemeat inspections are routine: "They try this every year, so I'm not surprised. I don't think (the Senate funding bill) will pass. At least I hope not."

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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