WASHINGTON — Last week, the House Appropriations Committee took a step toward allowing for horse slaughter in the U.S. by defeating a ban on horse meat inspections by the Agriculture Department.
On Tuesday, wild horse advocates hope the committee maintains a legal barrier that prohibits culling wild horses.
For years, Congress has prohibited horse slaughter operations by not appropriating funding for federal horse meat inspectors. Last week, after a dramatic debate that even those opposed to the ban called “emotional,” the Appropriations Committee, on a 25-27 vote, failed to extend the prohibition into next year.
Proponents of ending the ban on horse meat inspection, including Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., noted that more than 100,000 horses are exported from the U.S. for slaughter in Canada and Mexico every year, and that an American-regulated inspection program should result in more humane processing of the animals.
But Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., whose amendment would have prohibited funding for an inspection program, said, “we know unequivocally that horse slaughter is not humane and can’t be done humanely because of the unique biology of horses.”
Roybal-Allard said that 80% of the American public opposes horse slaughter but noted other reasons to oppose an inspection program, including that horses are exposed to a variety of chemical substances that might make their meat a public health hazard. She said what little economic benefit horse slaughter might bring a community would be accompanied by polluted waters and a “foul stench.”
She noted earlier USDA inspection efforts uncovered the inhumane treatment of horses, some of which remained “conscious during dismemberment.”
President Trump's proposed 2018 budget for the Bureau of Land Management cuts funding for the wild horse management program and proposes dropping rules preventing BLM from selling captured wild horses to slaughterhouses.
Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., said most Americans consider horses “as companion animals, not as livestock.” In response to the argument that some horses will be slaughtered abroad anyway, Bishop thundered, “If they’re going to be slaughtered: not in our house, not in our country.”
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, sought to introduce American iconography into the debate. “We built our country and fought wars on the backs of horses and they deserve better treatment than any door opening to their slaughter,” she said.
During the debate, both opponents and supporters of an inspection regimen were careful not to suggest anyone was advocating horse slaughter, and language in other parts of the bill specifically provided for continued implementation of inspections for the inhumane treatment of horses under the Animal Welfare and Horse Protection Acts.
Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., acknowledged no one in the room favored horse slaughter and said that, realistically, since none exist, it would take a decade to get a horse slaughter house licensed in the U.S. He said he hoped allowing inspections would help create “pressure” to solve the overpopulation problem because current efforts are not working.
In 2014, the Senate briefly considered lifting the ban on horse slaughter for human consumption that would have opened the practice to a Missouri-based processing plant. In May of this year, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service issued a warning to an acclaimed gourmet restaurant in Pittsburgh for serving horse tartare — raw horse meat mixed with vinegar chips and egg yolk — during a Quebec-themed dinner. The meat came from Alberta.
On Tuesday, the full committee will take up an Interior Department appropriations bill that currently prohibits spending on “the destruction of healthy, unadopted wild horses and burros in care of the of the Bureau (of Land Management) or its contractors or for the sale of wild horses and burros that result in their destruction for processing into commercial products.”
But Suzanne Roy, director of the Davis, Calif.-based American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said Monday that she’s concerned that the provision might be stripped out by a member of the committee, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, who has advocated turning over management of federally protected horses to the states.
“They believe under this new administration that this is their moment to make the move,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Stewart, Daryn Frishknecht, said she was unaware of any such plan but would look into it.