Everybody in the federal government knows that if you have bad news to announce, the best time to release it is on a Friday afternoon after most in Congress are on their outbound flights from Reagan National and most media figures have filed their last story for the week and moved on to liquid refreshments. A more complex version of the Friday afternoon game is to make a series of controversial announcements going into a long weekend, especially one with a midweek 4th of July. We’ve just gone through one of these exercises with USDA making announcements going into this weekend period involving the highly emotional subject of horse slaughter. To catch us all up, I thought it would be a good idea to put on my “news analysis” hat and explain what’s happened and what might or might not happen from here depending on how events transpire. Basically what’s occurred now is that two and maybe three small cities and towns have won a lottery of sorts with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) approving grants of inspection for horse slaughter facilities. But USDA’s green light for horse slaughter, “a grisly practice” that makes no sense according to those who claim to speak for the horses, is not going unchallenged. Roswell, NM, Sigourney, IA, and maybe Gallatin, MO are getting USDA’s promise to provide inspection services so horse slaughter for human consumption for export can begin. Those Midwestern and Western businesses have worked for close to two years with USDA in Washington D.C. to get equine meat inspectors provided to their plants. But whether they will ever be able to begin exporting horsemeat to foreign markets will hinge on events outside of their control. Specifically:
- Whether a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco grants an emergency injunction to animal protection groups who claim USDA’s grant of inspection was not issued legally because no environmental review was conducted on impacts of horse slaughter on the environment.
- Whether the on again, off again Congress maintains its current intention to again ban the use of federal money for inspection of equine slaughter facilities.
“America’s horses are not raised as food animals, and they receive numerous substances during their lives making them unfit and illegal for human consumption,” says Hilary Wood, president of the Larkspur, CO-based Front Range Equine Rescue. “Adding insult to injury, the suffering of the horses in the slaughter pipeline and the danger to humans makes this action more than inhumane.” Wood says there are alternatives for horse bound for slaughter, including re-training, re-homing and humane euthanasia. “We remain committed to stopping this insult to justice and our sense of justice,” she says. If the emergency injunction were granted in San Francisco, everything would be on hold until the court proceedings ran their course. Congress is suppose to make its budget decisions by Oct. 1, but frequently fails to make such deadlines and just extends current law. Horse slaughter ended after 2007 when Congress banned it by eliminating money for the equine inspectors. That language was removed in 2011 after Congressional auditors found unwanted horses were in greater peril without domestic slaughter options. The two businesses that have already received the grant of inspection from USDA are Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, NM and Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, IA, along with third expected to receive approval, Rains Natural Meats in Gallatin, MO, have spent about two years working through a process that USDA had to re-start from scratch. The fact that just as these companies have jumped through the USDA hoops just as Congress wants to again enact the ban is confusing. Here’s how a spokesperson for USDA’s meat inspection branch explains it: “Since Congress has not yet acted to ban horse slaughter inspection, FSIS is legally required to issue a grant of inspection… Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), FSIS must issue a grant of inspection once an establishment has satisfied all federal requirements as this 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 continue to comply with current law.” In the nearly seven years that elapsed under the ban, USDA found equine meat inspection had changed, including the need to ensure there is no comingling of horsemeat with other meat products. FSIS needed to establish stringent inspection processes including testing capabilities and labeling requirements. FSIS enacted species testing for meat and poultry capable to detect beef, sheep, swine, poultry, deer and horse in order to avoid having one species sold as another as occurred on a large scale earlier this year in Europe. FSIS also adopted validated testing methods and sampling methods to detect residues of animal drugs and or chemicals in equine tissues. It will test for approximately 130 pesticides and veterinary drugs in horses being slaughtered. If Congress again prohibits using federal money for ante-mortem inspection of horses intended for slaughter for human consumption, equine slaughter in the U.S. could not continue. That is because without the USDA mark of inspection, no horsemeat could move in commerce. Businesses in three other small towns have requested a grant of inspection: Rockville, MO, Woodbury, TN, and Washington, OK. Unlike the last three horse slaughter businesses to operate in the U.S. none of the applicants are known to be foreign owned. Most are small businesses with slaughter experience, hoping to add 50 or so jobs to their small communities. But with the Courts and Congress hanging in the wings, I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on horse slaughter returning to U.S.soil.