Not so long ago, it was perfectly legal to slaughter horses for meat in the U.S.
Is it again? In 2006 lawmakers eliminated federal funding for the inspection of horse meat processing facilities (read: slaughterhouses), effectively making horse meat production illegal in the states. But then in 2011, Congress passed legislation that didn't include language against the practice and recently President Obama authorized an agriculture spending measure that also didn't forbid USDA from conducting horse meat inspections.
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And because we're capitalists (and because, apparently, there's an argument that we need to slaughter horses) there's already a horse meat processing plant poised to open in New Mexico. Advocates estimate the $62 million-a-year slaughter industry could be back in action within the next few months. The New Mexico plant would be the first horse slaughterhouse to operate in the country in more than six years.
Valley Meat Company, located in southern New Mexico, has been fighting for the ability to open since Congress lifted the ban in 2011. They say the USDA ignored their application for years because of emotional/political reasons but according to reports, the USDA finally re-inspected the plant last week.
"It will open unless Congress restores the ban on horse slaughter that they had in place," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Huffington Post earlier this week. "If that doesn't happen, then we are duty-bound to do what needs to be done to allow that plant to begin processing."
There's been a shitstorm of drama around horse meat legality and recently U.S. Rep. Jim Moran wrote a letter to Vilsack asking the USDA to deny applications for horse processing plant inspections. Earlier Moran introduced legislation that would have reduced USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service funding and taken away funding for horse meat plant inspections. That legislation didn't make it into the recently-passed appropriations bill.
Horse advocates say the animals often experience horrible conditions while being transported to the slaughtering facilities and that the meat can sometimes contain drugs not fit for human consumptions. Not to mention that it's super creepy it is to eat animals commonly viewed as pets.
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Those in favor of lifting the ban point to statistics that show a rise in horse abuse and neglect since the ban was instated in 2006. They also say more than a hundred thousand horses a year are exported to Mexico and Canada for slaughter, depriving the U.S. of business and jobs.
This, of course, comes just on the heels of horse meat scandals in Europe, raising questions of whether or not Americans would ever eat horse meat. Valley Meat Co. says it had no intention of selling the meat in the U.S., rather they will ship the meat to other countries where horses are already eaten.