Congress poised to restart US horse slaughter for human consumption

Roy Blunt one of three key votes to make change

It’s the time of the year that most families are thinking about putting turkey on the table, not Trigger.

But language quietly stripped from a must-pass federal spending bill this week would enable slaughter of horses for human consumption to resume in the U.S. for the first time in more than five years.

The legislative bundle, which includes language that avoids a partial government shutdown after Friday, can’t be amended and was scheduled to clear both the House and Senate by week’s end.

Chris Heyde, a lobbyist for the Animal Welfare Institute, decried how the policy was changed by just three members of Congress and their staffs behind the closed doors of a conference committee, giving animal lovers no chance to argue their concerns.

Sens. Herb Kohl, D-Wisc., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., were joined by Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., in voting for the change. Only the fourth member of the conference committee, Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., objected.

Heyde and other animal rights activists say the move leaves them with only one avenue to keep domestic horse packing plants from starting up again — legislation banning horse slaughter entirely.

Since 2005, a clause in the annual Agricultural Appropriations bill has stipulated that no federal money can be used to inspect horse slaughter facilities in the U.S. Without the inspections, the meat can’t be shipped across state lines, effectively blocking operation of horse slaughterhouses since the market for the meat is almost entirely overseas.

The same provision started out in the House-passed version of the legislation this year, but not included in the Senate-approved version. The Senate version prevailed on the votes of three out of four members of a House-Senate committee appointed to work out differences between the bills.

The inspection ban has not stopped horse slaughter. A number of plants in the U.S. still process horses for animal feed, hides and other byproducts. And an estimated 140,000 American horses a year are shipped to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada, often under substandard conditions by truckers who aren’t registered with the USDA to handle animals.

The change is being hailed by a coalition of horse breeders, Indian tribal councils, large-animal veterinarians and others who contend the lack of domestic processing options hurts them financially and makes it more likely that horses will be abandoned or ill-cared for by owners who can’t afford them.

Animal rights activists counter that the change will simply facilitate killing more horses to feed Asian and European appetites for horsemeat, cost the U.S. Department of Agriculture millions and do little or nothing to improve conditions of horses.

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