U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told reporters Wednesday Congress should come up with a better solution for handling unwanted horses than slaughtering the animals for meat for human consumption. His comments came as USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has five at least partially completed applications to slaughter horses for human consumption, probably only for export, under active review. Rather than offering a specific alternative, Vilsack seemed to be thinking outside the box, saying horses might help veterans who’ve returned from war or be used for equipping prison inmates about to be released with job skills. Vilsack said there needs to be “a third way” to deal with the nation’s horse problem, instead of relying on just killing the animals or slaughtering them for human food. Just as they are required by federal law to provide continuous inspection for beef, pork, lamb and poultry slaughtering and processing, USDA’s meat inspectors are required to provide the same service for qualified equine businesses. Since Congress and the Obama Administration lifted the ban on horse slaughter for human consumption, five pending applications have been filed and one has appealed USDA’s delay into federal court. USDA prefers renewing the ban instead. Vilsack said that since the last inspected horsemeat slaughterhouse closed in 2006, science has improved on monitoring equine drug residues, a consideration which is getting attention in the current application process. After the ban was imposed, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of Congress studied the issue of unwanted horses in the U.S. and found sharp increases in starving and abandoned horses after the domestic slaughterhouses went out of business. It is a burdensome trend for many tribal and county governments.  A brisk business exists, however, for exporting live horses to Mexico and Canada for slaughter. The five applicants for horse slaughter are: Valley Meat of Roswell, NM; Rains Natural Meats of Gallatin, MO; Trail South Meat Processing of Woodbury, TN; Oklahoma Meat Co. of Washington, OK; and Responsible Transportation of Sigourney, IA. — Food Safety News is currently conducting a survey that you may have missed if you have a pop-up blocker installed.  Please take 5 minutes to tell us a little about yourself and why you read Food Safety News. The information you provide will remain confidential and will help us improve our service.  Thank you!  – The Food Safety News Team