Thu 1 Dec, 2011 11:46 am
Nov. 30, 2011
Lifting of horse slaughter ban reignites debate
By Barry Shlachter - star-telegram
Animal rights activists were dealt a blow two weeks ago when a ban on USDA horse meat inspections was quietly slipped out of an agricultural appropriations law, meaning that horse slaughter can resume in states that don't have their own prohibition, as Texas does.
"Texas will be held out of that until they change the state law," said Brent Gattis, a public-policy adviser who had served as a Washington lobbyist for the last three operating horse slaughter plants, Beltex/Frontier Meats in Fort Worth, Crown in Kaufman and a DeKalb, Ill., facility.
Gattis said nine states, mainly in the West, have passed resolutions supporting the return of horse slaughter, which ended in 2007. A 2006 appropriations bill omitted funding for horse meat inspectors, but the ban was stalled by legal action.
When a 1949 Texas law was upheld and a new Illinois law prohibiting horse slaughter was passed, challenges to the federal ban became moot, said Chris Heyde of the Washington-based Animal Welfare Institute, which lobbies against equine slaughter.
Since then, critics have cited the ban's unintended consequences, including a reported upswing in abused and abandoned horses, fueled by owners' inability to afford to keep them.
"A lot of the situation is due to the economy," Cheri White Owl of Guthrie, Okla., told The Associated Press. The nonprofit she founded, Horse Feathers Equine Rescue, is caring for 33 horses and can't accept more. "People are deciding to pay their mortgage or keep their horse."
White Owl is concerned that if slaughterhouses open, owners will dump their unwanted animals there instead of looking for alternatives, such as animal sanctuaries, she told The AP.
Meanwhile, as many horses are being slaughtered as before the ban, only the processing is done in Mexico and Canada, according to a 2011 government report.
"From 2006 through 2010, U.S. horse exports for slaughter increased by 148 percent to Canada and 660 percent to Mexico," totaling about 100,000 a year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said.
This year, horses shipped to Mexico for slaughter have increased 30 percent. Through Nov. 19, they totaled 60,169, up from 46,156, according to USDA statistics. Many are processed by European Union-approved facilities, which export cuts to Italy, Belgium, France, Sweden and other countries, which consider them either a cheaper alternative to beef or even a lean-meat delicacy.
Reportedly operating one of the Mexican plants is the Dutch-Belgian owner of Fort Worth's Beltex, which now processes high-end ostrich, deer, boar and cattle under the Frontier Meats label, as well as beef for the kosher market under the supervision of rabbis with the Orthodox Union certification agency.
The American public is philosophically divided between people who view horses as livestock and those who see them as recreational animals or pets.
Slaughter buyers had maintained an important floor price for the horse industry and plants employed hundreds. But the growing animal rights movement often drowned out economic arguments by cattle ranchers and plant owners, who included Europeans.
Moreover, few Americans have consumed horse meat since the 1940s, and many consider doing so culturally repugnant.
Gattis said groups of investors are being formed to reopen and retrofit facilities to handle horses in Montana, Wyoming and elsewhere. He predicts that a plant could be operating in six months to a year, "possibly on an Indian reservation."
Heyde said he had heard such speculation for years, particularly from a Wyoming state legislator. But whenever he checked into areas where the lawmaker said a slaughterhouse was being planned, local officials said nothing had been proposed.
The animal rights lobbyist said anti-slaughter campaigners were particularly peeved because the House agricultural appropriations subcommittee had actually voted to include the ban on horse meat inspection for the sixth straight year.
But Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., the subcommittee chairman, and Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., quietly deleted it during a conference committee session, he said.