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USDA Circumvents Congressional Ban on Horse Slaughter for Food

USDA Circumvents Congressional Ban on Horse Slaughter for Food
Environment News Service, February 8, 2006

Learn more and take action here (Humane Society of the United States)

WASHINGTON, DC, February 8, 2006 (ENS) - Animal protection organizations today criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allowing private inspections at three horse slaughterhouses, bypassing legislation that blocks inspections to shut down the horse slaughter operations.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) posted a Federal Register notice today stating that the agency is amending the federal meat inspection regulations under the Agricultural Marketing Act to provide for a voluntary fee-for-service program under which official establishments that slaughter horses will be able to apply for and pay for ante-mortem inspection.

The Fiscal Year 2006 Appropriations Act prohibits the use of appropriated funds to pay the salaries or expenses of FSIS personnel to conduct ante-mortem inspection of horses.

But, FSIS, said, the Department of Agriculture is obliged to provide for inspection of meat for human consumption. Post-mortem inspection and other inspection activities authorized by the Federal Meat Inspection Act at official establishments that slaughter horses would continue to be paid for with appropriated funds, except for overtime or holiday inspection services.

Critics say the USDA rule will allow three European-owned companies - two in Texas and one in Illinois - to continue butchering tens of thousands of horses for foreign menus each year in circumvention of a recent Congressional amendment banning the use of federal funds to inspect horses destined for slaughter for human food. "It is beyond our imagination in the U.S. Congress that the USDA would flout its mandate and spend tax dollars to circumvent this law," said Representative John Sweeney, a New York Republican. "Even our most hardened opponents knew that the purpose of the amendment was to stop horse slaughter - there was never any question about that."

"It's disturbing that an agency like USDA feels it is appropriate to obstruct a law passed by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority in Congress when their sole mission is to implement the law," Sweeney said.

Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 269-158 and the U.S. Senate voted 69-28 to stop the slaughter of horses, effective March 10, 2006.

On November 23, 2005, the slaughterhouses petitioned the USDA to establish a "fee-for-service" inspection system for horse slaughter in lieu of federally funded inspections, which Congress voted to end.

"The USDA is playing games and ignoring the directives of Congress while the lives of America's horses, who have served us faithfully and provided us with companionship, are at stake," said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of The Humane Society of the United States.

"By granting this eleventh-hour bid by the slaughterhouses to re-write the law," Markarian said, "the USDA is thumbing its nose at Congress and trying to substitute the judgment of foreign gourmands for the judgment of our elected lawmakers."

In a letter to the USDA, 40 members of Congress wrote, "The agency must cease inspection of horses for slaughter. Failure to do so constitutes willful disregard of clear Congressional intent on the part of the USDA. The agency has absolutely no authority to circumvent a Congressional mandate and effectively rewrite an unambiguous law at the request of the horse-slaughter industry."

In light of this end run around Congress's clear mandate to halt the slaughter of horses, the animal protection groups continue to lobby for the passage of bills before the House and the Senate to establish a permanent ban on horse slaughter for food.

Learn more and take action here (Humane Society of the United States)

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