Horse slaughter storm rages on

by Bernard Shire
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Recently, the US Dept. of Agriculture granted federal inspection to Responsible Transportation LLC, a slaughter plant based in Sigourney, Iowa, for the purpose of slaughtering horses. The inspection agency’s action comes on the heels of a grant of inspection for horse slaughter for Valley Meat Co., in Roswell, NM. It is expected a grant of inspection will also be made to a similar plant in Missouri. If approved, horse slaughter would take place in the US for the first time in six years.

The USDA’s actions could very well have repercussions for the entire meat industry, despite the fact there was no way the USDA could have avoided issuing the grants of inspection. Meanwhile, animal-rights groups are not sitting by idly. Led by The Humane Society of the United States, four other groups and five individuals have filed a lawsuit against USDA to stop the agency from carrying out the inspections of horses slaughtered at those companies.

For years, the slaughter of horses wasn’t much of an issue in the US because Congress had banned the practice. This was done by not allowing payment for the practice. The reasoning was based on the idea that unlike some parts of the world, the US is not a horse-eating society.

However, a few years ago, Congress lifted the ban on funding the inspection of horse slaughter. Recently, members of Congress took another approach by introducing legislation to stop the export of horse meat and meat products outside the US, and by making the consumption of horse meat illegal in the US. There’s also a stipulation in the 2014 federal budget to stop the inspection of horse meat.

Arguments against

The animal rights groups have based their arguments on the love affair Americans have had with horses, dating back to connections horses have to cowboys and the Old West, other romantic aspects of American life – and the fact that for the most part, horses haven’t been eaten in the US.

The opposition to horse slaughter here is based more on psychological factors, while the actual attempts to prevent it are centered on paying or not paying for the federal inspection.

Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico objected to horse slaughter taking place in her state, while the Iowa-based company said allowing horse slaughter and inspection in the US would be kinder to horses by preventing the travel they would have to endure to other countries to be slaughtered.

USDA has tried to deflect some of the attention on the issue by saying plants would have to comply with the laws and regulations bearing on animal slaughter, including HACCP, Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs) and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. USDA has also said because horse carcasses would be involved, the agency will take steps to ensure there will be no illegal drug residues in the carcasses. In other words, it would take steps to ensure inspection is carried out the same for horses as for other species.

Unfortunately, the issue of horse slaughter and the controversy surrounding it puts more negative focus, even if indirect, on an industry that doesn’t want or need it. While the industry has to spend time, money and public relations efforts on different issues surrounding slaughter and processing – including incidents of whether animals to be slaughtered are always treated humanely and the question of factory farming – the introduction of slaughter and processing of horses for their meat is an issue industry really doesn’t need to deal with, if it can possibly avoid it. Meat from horses is not even going to be consumed in the US, but the slaughter would take place here. With thousands of plants in the US successfully processing meat and poultry, three small plants slaughtering horses will focus a lot of attention on a controversy the industry could easily live without.

Bernard Shire is a contributing editor based in Lancaster, Pa. He also works as a food safety consultant for Shire & Associates LLC.

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By morgansinkc 10/1/2013 1:35:13 AM
Please ask your U.S. Senators and Representatives to support the Safeguard American Food Exports act, which will ban slaughter in the U.S. and the shipment for slaughter to Canada and Mexico. Safeguard American Food Exports act is S. 541 in the U.S. Senate and H.R. 1094 in the U.S. House of Representatives. This website makes it easy to contact your elected officials:

By morgansinkc 10/1/2013 1:34:50 AM
There is a brand new Facebook page dedicated to consolidating all of the anti-horse slaughter petitions into one place, so you no longer have to go looking for them all!

By morgansinkc 10/1/2013 1:32:43 AM
Please ask your U.S. Senators and Representatives to support the Safeguard American Food Exports act, which will ban slaughter in the U.S. and the shipment for slaughter to Canada and Mexico. Safeguard American Food Exports act is S. 541 in the U.S. Senate and H.R. 1094 in the U.S. House of Representatives. This website makes it easy to contact your elected officials:

By DocBeef 9/14/2013 9:39:16 PM
First, I believe you have made an assumption that is not true. I have seen nothing or heard of any consumer groups who hold this feeling. Since horses are more in the in the category of companion animals to many people, it is understandable that they might object, but not tie it to the slaughter of meat animals or poultry. Hence, it becomes an emotionional issue to the low information consumer (or activist). For those in or around the horse industry, I have heard of no serious objections, in fact, most are very favorable toward it. If one rationally considers the current market and handling, it is the most humane way to treat these animals It is certainly more humane that just turning them loose in a park to fend for themselves, like the stories we heard from KY when horse slaughter ceased. It is much more humane than trucking these animals to either Canada or Mexco. No livestock producer that I know feels good about having to send cull animals to market when they can no longer function, but just keeping them around can be both very expensive and inhumane. It is the only grown-up thing to do.

By Observer 9/12/2013 12:32:26 PM
Cynthia and Debbie. Typing narrow minded opinions in caps will not fix anythng. Really, go to your room and let the adults talk.

By Lucy 9/12/2013 12:14:29 AM
As someone who has been involved with horses for 40 years, please re-open the slaughter plants. Duh - there is no control by the people who are not responsible breeders, just like in the 5 million dogs and cats that have to be put to sleep each year. Much kinder to do here. Mustangs are the result of ranchers who had horses that didn't have enough value to justify paying for their grazing rights so they were turned loose. What is the value of spending money paying for the keep of a single wild horse for 20 years? A romantic story?

By Ben Ebersole 9/10/2013 5:06:42 PM
Good Article. Mr. Shire. Given that Inspection Services are under cost reducing plans at every turn; What is the likely-hood horse meat will start showing up as mislabeled beef? Always enjoy your writing; and thanks for your help with my HACCP issues several years ago. Regards.

By Cynthia 8/31/2013 3:50:35 PM
I am a horse owner. I am NOT an activist. I am against slaughter-I lived near the plant in Illinois and I was exposed to the stench, the lies, the horrible way they treat people and observed the thefts of horses, many times the horses couldn't be recovered in time. We don't need this in our Country. If anything We American's are above this. For the Leader of the pack, she spends so much time stating we are all activists, but not one time has EVER looked over her shoulder to see that while the ones who are pro-slaughter are laughing behind her back at her blindness to reality saying whatever if we can re-open it she missed the fact that REAL horse owners KNOW what kill buyers are all about, how they badly beat horses at horse auctions, I have even been threatened on my facebook-oooh watch you say or something might happen that's bad. Come on folks, the something that's bad is happening animals are being butchered and they are ignoring the common horse people because we haven't spoken LOUD enough. I told the guy who made the threats that I turn them over to the FBI if he continued and then I let him know that if WE are Threatened to QUIT WE YELL ALL THE LOUDER! WE WONT BE QUIET UNTIL THE HORSES ARE SET FREE! NO MORE SLAUGHTER! SHOUT IF FROM THE ROOFTOPS NO MORE SLAUGHTER< WE WILL NOT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER! WE ARE the PEOPLE of UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and that Constitution was written by a horse back riding citizens, and this country was founded by horse back citizens, and the Nation's greatest tribes Rode in On Horses as Citizens! And WE ARE SAYING NO! SO to SUE WALLIS TAKE your no more Activists stance and sell it to whomever, ITs Horse OWNERS who don't want this!

By Debbie 8/30/2013 8:29:56 PM
The BEEF Industry is cutting there own throats for endorsing horse slaughter... WE ALL 80% of the American People have just started a petition to boycott BEEF until Safe Act is passed... NOW what would be the consequences of that for the beef industry, you all figure it out but it certainly will not be good.... Here we all are trying to fight this slaughter fight the Beef Industry, Farm Bureaus, ALL BIG AGR> and in the mean time we continued to support and eat there product well NO MORE... They have made there bed NOW they will sleep in it, and I hope it is a very restless sleepless bunch of nights ahead... BEEF Ind. has earned it ALL OF IT... I SAY GOOD... THIS will HURT the ole pocketbook........A FIGHT you asked for NOW it's payback......