USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) won’t admit it has received either request, but the agency now has two formal applications for inspection of horse meat-for-export processing facilities.
As Food Safety News reported earlier, Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, NM previously filed the first application for equine inspection services with FSIS. The agency has now received a second application for horse slaughter from Unified Equine Missouri for an equine processing plant at Rockville, MO, according to the company.
While FSIS will neither confirm nor deny that the two applications exist, suggesting that the only way get information about them would be to file a Freedom of Information Act request to the agency, one of the most experienced animal protection attorneys in the country is already marshaling the opposition.
Both applications follow the deal by President Obama and Congress to end the 2007 ban on the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the United States. The deal clears the way for FSIS to make its continuous inspection services available for equine production.
Unified Equine’s Chief Executive Officer Sue Wallis told Food Safety News that her company is in the process of acquiring the Rockville processing plant, previously used for beef, and making necessary changes to the facility required before FSIS will conduct a walk-through inspection.
Wallis, who also serves in the Wyoming House of Representatives, says Unified Equine wanted FSIS’s input in advance, but the agency declined for legal reasons. “So we are proceeding with our plans to renovate the existing facility, which was USDA certified for beef, and to install our humane handling system designed for the unique characteristics of horses, ” Wallis said. “Once that work is completed we will be moving forward with our grant of inspection request.”
FSIS officials, according to Wallis, have told the company that the agency is in the process of reestablishing equine inspector training and drug residue plans for horses. Congress cut spending for inspecting horse slaughter about a year before the last three equine operations closed in 2007.
Wallis, who is also U.S. chair for the International Equine Business Association, says international protocols have not changed much since the U.S. got out the business. That goes for European Union regulations, which remain virtually the same as in 2007. Unified Equine Missouri plans to be an all-export operation.
Horse exports from the U.S. to Canada and Mexico since the ban have increased so much that 74 percent of the horses processed north of the border last year originated in the states, Wallis says. She thinks that percentage is probably higher for Mexico.
While the two plants work on their applications, attorney Bruce A. Wagman with the San Francisco office of Schiff Hardin LLP is working to make sure neither plant ever begins slaughtering horses.
Wagman, who represents the Humane Society of the United States and Colorado-based Front Range Equine Rescue, has filed 90-page petitions with both USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration over the rules and regulations that will govern horse slaughter in the U.S. if and when it resumes.
To supplement his petitions, Wagman has already submitted a 29-page document listing 115 “banned and dangerous substances commonly given to horses sent to slaughter” to illustrate that U.S. horsemeat is uniquely unsuited for human consumption.
Until settling in Rockville, Unified Equine was mostly shopping Missouri for the right existing facility in a welcoming community after the company got a chilly reception in Mountain Grove.
New Mexico’s Valley Meats is an entirely different story.
Everyone from New Mexico’s Governor Susana Martinez on down has gone on record opposing the Roswell horse slaughter proposal. And a pile of an estimated 400 tons of dead cattle outside the former beef processing plant is not helping make the case for owner Rick De Los Santos, who could not be reached for comment.
FSIS’s Ron Nelson in January 2010 notified state officials about the pile of old dairy cows. “He calls it ‘composting’ but by all appearances rotting would be more accurate,” Nelson wrote. “I am told that during fly season the pile literally moves due to the maggots.”
Nelson guessed the pile was about 15 feet high and “full of bones and animals parts.”
Front Range Equine Rescue has called upon the State of New Mexico to fine Valley Meat Co. for waste disposal violations. However, New Mexico’s solid waste chief said the pile had composted since January 2010 became a certified compost facility.
For her part, Wallis promises that Unified Equine will follow standards established by the International Equine Business Association, including video surveillance and fail-safe testing and traceability protocols.
Horses have been exported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter since the U.S. ban, raising concern about inhumane transportation and disposal practices.© Food Safety News