USDA continues to allow horse slaughter

By Madeline Keleher

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week that it will allow the nation’s three horse slaughtering plants – two of which are in Texas, and the other in Illinois – to remain open.

This announcement comes in light of a recently passed amendment intended to effectively outlaw horse slaughter. The amendment denies federal funding for mandatory horse-processing plant inspections. However, the USDA’s alternate interpretation of the law has come as a surprise.

“The amendment to the appropriation is ambiguous,” said James Tucker, general manager of horse-processing center Cavel International in DeKalb, Ill.

It does not actually prohibit horse slaughter in the U.S., said Jon Foreman of the College of Veterinary Medicine. This presents a problem because federal regulations already in place call for the inspection of any meat being sold for human consumption, Foreman said. To comply with this, the USDA has authorized alternate inspections of the plants, independent of federal funding.

“The USDA is just doing what they see they need to do,” Tucker said. “They’re not thumbing their noses at Congress – they’re doing what is required by the appropriation.”

In Nov. 2005, the slaughterhouses petitioned the USDA to allow a fee-for-service inspection process. This circumvention of federal funding permits the slaughterhouses to pay the inspection costs through a private program set up for processing exotic meats such as bison and rabbit, according to a National Geographic article published last week.

Cavel and the two Texas processing centers slaughtered a total of 94,037 horses last year, said Jerry Finch, president of Habitat for Horses in Texas, in an e-mail.

“Although the three slaughterhouses state that they only made $41 million last year, that’s for show,” Finch said. “The income is made overseas through other corporations.”

The horsemeat is shipped overseas as delicacies to countries such as France, Belgium and Italy, Tucker said.

“A lot of people don’t have any idea what’s going on (regarding horse slaughter),” said Noah Cooper, street team coordinator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Because of this the agriculture department doesn’t have to answer to the public about what is happening to horses, Cooper said.

For the last few years, residents of Kaufman, Texas have complained that blood from the neighboring Dallas Crown horse-processing plant has backed up into their bathtubs, according to the National Geographic article.

Finch says he has paid hundreds of visits to the Dallas Crown plant – the other two plants are not open to the public.

“Slaughter days are Monday and Thursday,” Finch said. “A horse arriving late Thursday, for instance, would stand there until Monday morning, crowded into pens with no separation of studs, mares, older horses, injured horses or foals. A lot of horses die from that alone.”

The USDA has tried to ensure the humane treatment of the horses. In 2001, a law was passed describing detailed regulations for the humane transport of horses for slaughter, Tucker said.

For those who wish to outlaw horse slaughter the most important thing to do is to write about it to local representatives in Congress, Cooper said.