WASHINGTON — Legislation to terminate federal funding of inspections for U.S. horse slaughter facilities made its way into both cameral
versions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) appropriations bill. At presstime, Congress passed budget extensions
for all U.S. agencies after missing the Oct. 1 deadline while House and Senate versions of federal spending bills are hammered
out in conference, but observers expect the provision that would kill funding for inspection services at horse slaughter plants
to make it into the final bill.
"This legislation could very well end our business," says Jim Bradshaw, consultant and spokesperson for the Dallas Crown and
Beltex processing facilities in Texas. The two companies could be laying off about 150 people if the final language prohibits
the facilities from paying for its own inspections.
The provision would expire Sept. 30, 2006 with USDA's budget, but an amendment was introduced in the House of Representatives
in May that would prohibit horse slaughter for human consumption permanently.
The USDA Food Safety Inspection Service employs six people who inspect horse slaughter facilities; three are veterinarians.
The agency otherwise declined to comment on pending legislation.
The American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Horse Council, and other
allied groups under the umbrella of the Horse Welfare Coalition, have been working to defeat HR 503, dubbed the slaughter
"The only reason we don't agree is because we don't believe that these horses will be better off," says Dr. Michael Chaddock,
AVMA director of governmental relations. "Now that Congress has spoken, we still have that concern, and we are trying to determine
what we can do to ensure that the 75,000 (horses slaughtered by the three U.S. facilities each year) will be taken care of."
Officials expect animals will be diverted to Canada and Mexico for processing.
Currently, the Texas facilities pay for the overtime wages for inspections, and they foot the bill for inspections of animals
that are not listed in a century-old livestock recognition law. Ostrich and buffalo are a couple of species that slaughter
facilities commonly pay the USDA for its inspections.
Unwanted horse discussion continues
"We're not sure who can answer that question for us. We have asked questions but, we have not received answers yet," Bradshaw
says. "We hope that some things could get done in conference, but I doubt it."
Chaddock doesn't think USDA would allow a pay-for-service agreement, either, considering a Republican Congress has made its
intent very clear, and Republican-appointed agency heads would buck the expressed intent of the legislature by allowing the
facilities to pay for their own inspections.
It might not be too popular with the public, either. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) halted its wild mustang sale program
in April when several animals ended up at Caval International, a processing facility in DeKalb, Ill. A public outcry prompted
an agreement not to process any horse that previously was owned by the federal government.
"We got a call from the head of the department who asked us to stop," says Jim Tucker, general manager for Caval. "Legally
we could take them, but it's more bother than it's worth."
Tucker says he now must screen each person who inquires about his services.
About 200,000 horses have been adopted by private owners since the BLM's adoption program began in 1973. Earlier this year,
Congress passed a bill that required BLM to sell its wild horses that are either more than 10 years old or have been passed
over for adoption at least three times. About 8,400 out of the about 37,000 federally managed wild horses became eligible
for sale under the new mandate, but after the Caval debacle, USDA voluntarily stopped its sale program. Congress might be
changing its mind, too. A rider on the House version of the U.S. Department of the Interior's budget bill takes away the funding
for BLM's sale program just a few months after it began.
The flood of unwanted horses could put heightened strain on equine rescue and retirement facilities that already are stretched
thin, and it elevates the need for humane destruction and disposal services throughout the country.