Washington — When it comes to reopening horse slaughter operations in the United States, government officials say they doubt horse slaughter for meat will resume in the United States any time soon.
Dr. Elizabeth Hagen, under secretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), wrote on the White House blog Dec. 13 that various federal, state and local requirements and prohibitions against horse slaughter for human consumption are still in place and will likely create some barriers to the reopening of horse slaughter plants.
"While Congress has lifted the ban, USDA does not expect horse slaughter to resume in the near term," Hagen writes. "Furthermore, there have been no requests that the department initiate the authorization process for any horse slaughter operation in the United States at this time."
The blog post was in response to two petitions—one in favor of restoring the ban on horse slaughter and another in favor of allowing humane horse slaughter for meat export—submitted to the White House. The petition to restore horse slaughter contained 5,528 signatures as of press time, compared to the 8,510 signatures on the petition to reinstate the slaughter ban.
Congress quietly approved the reinstatement of domestic horse slaughter for human consumption Nov. 17, after it approved its annual appropriations bill, HR 2112. The legislation omitted language barring USDA from inspecting horse slaughter facilities, and some watchdogs said that may have opened up enough of a gap for a horse slaughter plant to resume operations. The appropriations language had been in place in the bill since 2006.
The action follows a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) implying that horses may be worse off because of the U.S. horse slaughter ban. Advocates calling for a return of horse slaughter have blamed the ban for an increase in horse abandonment, especially noted at the height of the economic recession.
Dave Duquette, president of the United Horsemen, an advocacy group that supports the humane slaughter of horses inside U.S. borders, says processing facilities that have closed due to the decline in other meat markets can easily be retrofitted and opened as horse slaughter facilities. He told DVM Newsmagazine in November that he anticipated a plant opening within the next two months.
He says only four states have explicitly banned horse slaughter for human consumption—California, Florida, Illinois and Texas.