Compelled by federal law, USDA this week issued its second certificate of inspection to a horse processing plant, the most recent located in Sigourney, Iowa. The first certificate was issued to a Roswell, N.M. plant last week, and a third plant in Gallatin, Mo., is expected to receive its certificate "soon."
The action comes despite Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack's plea for "a third way" to deal with nearly 250,000 abandoned and neglected horses in the U.S., the White House's 11th-hour addition to its FY2014 budget action to "defund" USDA spending on horse slaughter inspection, and immediately generated a federal suit filed by the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) and others to stop the plants from opening. In addition, amendments to FY2014 ag/FDA appropriations bills to defund horse slaughter inspection have been added to pending House and Senate bills, though the future of those bills is unsure at best.
The HSUS suit, filed for itself, four horse protection groups and five individuals, was brought under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), alleging USDA failed to conduct required environmental reviews before issuing the certificates of inspection. However, all the plants are refurbished and modernized former beef processing facilities, and NEPA only requires process review, not complete environmental impact analyses. Further, all three plants must operate with permits under state environmental protection laws.
A USDA spokesperson told Meatingplace.com, "Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, FSIS must issue a grant of inspection once an establishment has satisfied all requirements as this (Iowa) plant has done. FSIS anticipates one additional application for equine inspection could meet the mandated requirements in the coming days. The Administration has requested Congress to reinstate the ban on horse slaughter. Until Congress acts, the Department must comply with federal law."
Horse slaughter is legal in the U.S.; Congress has never banned the practice. Three horse slaughter plants operating in Texas and Illinois were closed due to state or court actions in 2007, leaving about 100,000 horses without a market. The practice was interrupted from 2007-2011, when amendments to appropriations bills forbid USDA from spending federal dollars to provide inspection, but that prohibition was dropped. HSUS says the horses should be euthanized, but advocates argue if it's too expensive to keep and maintain a horse, owners are unlikely to pay a vet to put the horse down and pay a renderer to come and pick up the carcass.
Advocates of reopening horse slaughter facilities in the U.S. contend USDA-inspected horse processing is the most humane method of euthanasia to deal with the growing population of unwanted and neglected horses while preserving value in personal property. Further, Native American tribes from across the country have joined the battle to reinstate horse slaughter as feral horses are doing significant damage to tribal lands in the West, destroying plants used in ceremonies and tribal medicine.
Horse meat exporting represents a $100-million-a-year export market, advocates say, and all three horse facilities say they've receive orders or inquiries from several overseas markets, as well as several ethnic group customers in the U.S.