TULSA, Okla. – Congress recently lifted a five-year-old ban on funding horse meat inspections in the US. As a result, horses may soon be slaughtered and processed again in this country for human consumption, according to The Associated Press. Reportedly, horse slaughterhouses could be operating within a month.

In 2006, US horse slaughter opponents pushed a measure eliminating funding for horse-meat inspections through Congress after other efforts to pass bans on horse slaughter failed. Congress lifted the ban in a spending bill President Barack Obama signed into law Nov. 18 to keep the government operating through mid-December.

This move, however, did not allocate new money for horse meat inspections, which opponents claim could cost taxpayers $3 million to $5 million annually. The US Department of Agriculture would have to find the money in its existing budget, which is expected to undergo more cuts this year as Congress and the White House try to cut federal spending.

On Nov. 29, USDA iterated there are no slaughterhouses in the US that process horses for human consumption now, but if one were to open, it would conduct inspections to make sure federal laws were being followed.

The last US horse slaughterhouse closed in 2007 in Illinois. Animal-welfare activists have threatened a massive public outcry in any town where a slaughterhouse may open in the future. "If plants open up in Oklahoma or Nebraska, you'll see controversy, litigation, legislative action and basically a very inhospitable environment to operate," said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of The Humane Society of the US.

Pro-slaughter activists point out, however, the ban had unintended consequences, including an upswing in neglect and abandonment of horses, and added they are scrambling to get a plant going – perhaps in Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska or Missouri. They estimate a slaughterhouse could open within 30 to 90 days with state approval and eventually as many as 200,000 horses per year could be slaughtered for human consumption. Most of the horse meat would be shipped to Europe and Asia, where it's treated as a delicacy.

No state or site has been picked yet, said Dave Duquette, president of the nonprofit, pro-slaughter group United Horsemen, but he's lined up investors who expressed an interest in helping to fund a processing plant. Although the last three slaughterhouses in the US were owned by foreign companies, a new plant would be American-owned, he added.

US ranchers previously could sell horses that were too old or unfit for work to slaughterhouses, but now they have to ship them to butchers in Canada and Mexico, for less than half the price they got before, said Sue Wallis, a Wyoming state lawmaker who's the group's vice president.

Federal lawmakers' lifting of the ban on funding for horse meat inspections happened in part due to the recession, which began just as horse slaughtering stopped. A federal report from the US Government Accountability Office released in June found local animal welfare organizations reported an increase in investigations for horse neglect and abandonment since 2007. Data showed that investigations for horse neglect and abuse in Colorado increased more than 60 percent – from 975 in 2005 to almost 1,600 in 2009.

In 2010, about 138,000 horses were transported from the US to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, nearly the same number that were killed in the US before the ban took effect in 2007, the study said. An estimated 9 million horses exist in the US today.