Federal officials cleared the way Friday for a return to domestic horse slaughter, granting a southeastern New Mexico company's application to convert its cattle facility into a horse processing plant.
In approving Valley Meat Co. plans to produce horse meat, USDA officials also indicated that they would grant similar permits to companies in Iowa and Missouri as early as next week.
With the action, the Roswell, N.M., company is set to become the first operation in the nation licensed to process horses into meat since Congress effectively banned the practice seven years ago. The company has been fighting for approval from the Department of Agriculture for more than a year with a request that ignited an emotional debate over whether horses are livestock or domestic companions.
The decision comes more than six months after Valley Meat Co. sued the USDA, accusing it of intentionally delaying the process because the Obama Administration opposes horse slaughter. Valley Meat Co. wants to ship horse meat to countries where people cook with it or feed it to animals.
Although the USDA granted the company's certification, it was unclear when it would actually be able to begin slaughtering horses. Valley Meat Co. attorney Blair Dunn says the USDA has to send inspectors to the plant before it can begin operation.
The plant would become the first horse slaughterhouse to operate in the country since Congress banned the practice by eliminating funding for inspections at the plants. Congress reinstated the funding in 2011, but the USDA has resisted approving Valley Meat Co.'s application, prompting the lawsuit.
The USDA also is lobbying for an outright ban on horse slaughter, and the Obama administration's budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year eliminates funding for inspections of horse slaughterhouses, which would effectively reinstate a ban on the industry. Both the House and Senate agriculture committees have endorsed proposals that would cut the funding. But it is unclear when and if an agriculture appropriations bill will pass this year.
"Since Congress has not yet acted to ban horse slaughter inspection, (the agriculture department) is legally required to issue a grant of inspection today to Valley Meats in Roswell, N.M., for equine slaughter," said USDA spokeswoman Courtney Rowe. "The Administration has requested Congress to reinstate the ban on horse slaughter. Until Congress acts, the Department must continue to comply with current law."
She said it was unclear when operations would start. But she said Valley Meat would have to notify the plant in advance to get inspectors on site. A return to domestic horse slaughter has divided horse rescue and animal welfare groups, ranchers, politicians and Indian tribes about what is the most humane way to deal with the country's horse overpopulation and what rescue groups have said are a rising number of neglected and starving horses as the West deals with persistent drought.
Proponents of a return to domestic horse slaughter point to a 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office that shows horse abuse and abandonment have been increasing since slaughter was banned in 2006. They say it is better to slaughter the animals in humane, federally regulated facilities than have them abandoned to starve across the drought-stricken West or shipped to inhumane facilities in Mexico.
The number of U.S. horses sent to other countries for slaughter has nearly tripled since 2006, the report says. And many humane groups agree that some of the worst abuse occurs in the slaughter pipeline. Many are pushing for a both a ban on domestic slaughter as well as a ban on shipping horses to Mexico and Canada.
New Mexico Land Commissioner Ray Powell, a veterinarian, called on local, state and federal leaders to "work together to create solutions and provide sustainable funding to care for or humanely euthanize these unwanted horses. Continuing to ignore the plight of starving horses, creating a new horse slaughter plant, or exporting unwanted horses to Mexico won't solve this problem."
Jun 28, 2013 Press Release
ALBUQUERQUE, NM – U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01), a memberof the House Agriculture Committee, released the following statement after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a grant of inspection for a horse slaughter facility in Roswell, NM:
“I am deeply disappointed and saddened that the USDA is allowing horse slaughter to take place right here in New Mexico. By issuing a grant of inspection to Valley Meat Company in Roswell, the USDA has ignored the significant and compelling food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection concerns associated with this particular plant.
“It is completely irresponsible for the USDA to blame Congress for not acting when the USDA has failed to be an engaged and effective regulator in this process. I sent a letter to the USDA two months ago – which has gone unanswered – outlining
numerous legal justifications for denying a grant of inspection to the Roswell plant and to other horse slaughter facilities. And recently, I joined a bipartisan group of colleagues to send a letter to the USDA urging it to defer any final decision until it fully considered all of these concerns.
“It is the job of the USDA to ensure that plant operators meet necessary standards before issuing grants of inspection. Based on his fraudulent applications and past felony convictions alone, the owner of Valley Meat does not come close to meeting those standards.
“I am personally dissatisfied with the USDA’s leadership on this issue. It has failed to consider the views of the seventy percent of New Mexicans who oppose horse slaughter, a cruel process that causes great pain and distress to the animals. Horse meat also poses significant food safety issues that make itdangerous for human consumption.
“Although the USDA has declined to do its job, I remain optimistic that Congress will continue moving forward with a bipartisan solution to end this inhumane practice.”
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., introduced a bill in the Agriculture Committee on May 15, 2013 that would have banned the actual authorization – not just the funding – to inspect horse slaughter facilities. She withdrew the amendment when it became apparent it would not pass the committee. Lujan Grisham applauded Thursday’s Appropriations Committee vote and called horse slaughter “a cruel process that causes great pain and distress to the animals.”
Rep Grisham is also a Co-Sponsor of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (H.R.1094) which will ban the slaughter of horses on U.S. soil and prevent transporting horses across American borders for slaughter in Canada and Mexico.
In a letter submitted to Sara Parker Pauley, Director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Front Range Equine Rescue (FRER) requested the Missouri DNR to impose a moratorium on the issuance of any permits that would allow any horse slaughter facility to operate in Missouri.Rains Natural Meats, a business located in rural Daviess County near Gallatin, Missouri, has submitted an application to the Missouri DNR and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would allow it to operate a horse slaughter facility. In its permit application, Rains Natural Meats seeks authority to operate under a permit typically associated with the disposal of food wastes from restaurants.
Currently, there are no horse slaughter facilities in operation anywhere in the United States. If the Missouri DNR issues a permit to Rains Natural Meats, Missouri would become the first state in the country to allow such activities.“Horses are commonly treated with over 110 different veterinary drugs that are not authorized by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for use in horses that are killed for human consumption,” said Hilary Wood, President of Front Range Equine Rescue. “In fact, horse meat is adulterated and cannot legally be sold, based on federal law,” added Wood.
Because American horses are not raised for food, no information is available concerning the horses’ drug or medical history. “Several studies have shown that these types of veterinary drugs generally do not degrade in wastewater lagoons and will continue to be present in soils even after the wastewater has been applied on land,” said Stephen Jeffery, an attorney in St. Louis, who represents FRER.Jeffery added, “With the wide prevalence of the use of these veterinary drugs in horses, the fact that these drugs are not authorized for human use, and the fact that these drugs persist in the environment, it is important to fully evaluate the potential adverse effects on human health and the environment before allowing such a facility to begin operations.”
A petition has also been submitted to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services to adopt state regulations to prohibit the processing and sale of adulterated horse meat from horses who have been given these veterinary drugs.
Source: Front Range Equine Rescue
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