Does This Mean Horse Is Back on the Menu?

Five years after the federal government closed facilities that slaughter horses, President Barack Obama signed legislation that effectively reverses the old policy and allows slaughter plants to open. 
Wed November 30, 2011 9:55 pm
Sifu_Renka | Flickr

In December of 2006, Texas Monthly’ s Karen Olsson wrote about the closure of the last three horse slaughter facilities in the United States, two of which were here in Texas. Five years later, the federal government has chosen to reverse the policy that helped end horse slaughter in this country.

As Sonya Colberg and Chris Casteel of the Oklahoman reported, President Barack Obama signed a major agricultural appropriations bill on November 18 that includes a provision to restore funding for USDA inspections of horse processing facilities, which means that new slaugher plants can now open. (The meat is shipped to European countries where horse meat is more commonly consumed.)

The controversial practice faced opposition from animal-right activists, but processing advocates are quick to point out that detractors are generally unbothered with the slaughter of chickens, cows, and pigs. Slaughter advocates see this view as a double-standard, but more importantly, they argue that aging horses will get slaughtered anyway.

That’s why the federal law has changed. As the Dallas Morning News s Tristan Hallman reported in August, the U.S. Government Accountability Office conducted a study which found that ban had made things worse for horses and horse farmers, creating “a cure worse than the disease.” The study was titled, “Actions Needed To Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter.”

According to the GAO report (as excerpted by the Oklahoman) there were 104,899 horses slaughtered in the United States in 2006. In 2009, the US shipped even more animals to Canada or Mexico for slaughter, a number that rose even further, to 137,984, in 2010.

The Oklahoman reported that new slaughterhouses are being considered in several states, including Oregon, Montana, and Wyoming.

Texas likely won’t be on that list—selling horses for meat has actually been illegal in the state since 1949, though it wasn’t until 2002 that then-Attorney General John Cornyn tried to reenforce that law. As the Animal Law Coalition reported at the time, the ensuing legal battle resulted in the statute being overturned in federal district court in 2006, only to be upheld on appeal by the 5th Circuit Court in 2007. That ruling (and the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear a subsequent appeal) is what ultimately put the state’s two slaughterhouses out of business.

The Houston-based publication Horseback magazine has published myriad articles about the new federal provision, including a November 17 guest column by Simone Netherlands of Respect4Horses. “Americans don’t consume horsemeat. Polls have consistently revealed over 70% of Americans oppose horse slaughter,” Netherlands wrote.

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