I’ll Take a Side with My Sirloin Horsemeat

Lately, the controversy about horse meat has resurfaced in the United States.Here is a recent update. On November 1, 2013 the federal District Court ruled against Front Line Equine and reopened the door to horse meat slaughter and packing facilities. The District Court in New Mexico dismissed the case which challenged USDA inspections in horse meat facilities without going through extensive and formal environmental reviews. However, Front Range Equine Rescue filed a motion for a temporary injunction with the Court of Appeals  for the 10th Circuit. The Court of Appeals  granted the motion which stayed  the district court’s November 1  ruling.  The Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay of the  lower court opinion over USDA inspections of horse meat slaughter and packing facilities. Stay tuned for  more to come as this case continues to unfold.

The horse meat scandal in Europe http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/horsemeat-scandal has awakened the United States debate. What is the argument? Is eating horse meat any different than eating beef, lamb, veal, chicken or turkey? Apparently, in the United States it is whereas in some countries it is a delicacy. This is far from just a legal issue. Rather, it has become an emotional issue for many animal rights advocates and organizations and it does raise the issue of societal values and mores. According to a recently released Congressional Report on this topic, back in 2006, two Texas plants and one in Illinois slaughtered approximately 105,000 horses for human food for export, primarily for European and Asian consumers. Subsequently, due to legal action, the Texas plants were shuttered. The Illinois plant closed due to a state ban. See: Congressional Research Service April 9, 2013 Horse Slaughter Prevention Bills and Issues, 7-5700, RS21842.

Background: United States Department of Agriculture USDA Inspection of Meat 

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for the inspection and regulation of meat, poultry, dairy products and eggs (shell eggs include joint responsibility with FDA). The specific law that provides USDA with authority to regulate meat products is the Federal Meat Inspection Act.  USDA is involved in the inspection and regulation of meat and poultry products at all production stages. In addition to inspection, USDA approves new plant construction and equipment, develops and supervises plant sanitation standards and trains inspection personnel. USDA is organized by service organizations such as the Food Safety and Inspection Service. The Food Safety Inspection Service personnel conduct inspection under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. 603 Examination of animals prior to slaughter; use of humane methods). http://uscode.house.gov/download/pls/21C12.txt

There were bills in the 111th Congress would have made it a crime to knowingly possess, ship, transport, sell, deliver, or receive any horse, carcass, or horse flesh intended for human consumption. Although the proposals were referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security and the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, there was no further action.

A general provision in the House-passed FY2012 Agriculture appropriations bill (H.R. 2112,§739) would have continued to prohibit any funds to pay salaries or expenses of the Food Safety Inspection Service personnel to inspect horses under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (21 U.S.C.603). However, this general provision was not included in the Senate-passed version of H.R. 2112, nor was it included in the final bill (P.L. 112-55). That means FSIS could again inspect horse meat at the horse processing plants. A facility in New Mexico became the first to apply for a grant of inspection from FSIS following the lifting of the ban. Another facility in Missouri also has an application pending. Valley Meat Company, LLC, the New Mexico facility, filed a lawsuit against USDA for its failure to provide inspections for horse slaughter. The lawsuit may eventually become moot as the facility in New Mexico could be approved in the near future.


A Few Considerations

No doubt this issue will not go quietly away nor should it. The goals of the Federal Meat Inspection Act center on the public health and safety. Which is better—humane slaughter of horses in the United States or horse abandonment which leads to starvation and eventual death? Perhaps this issue is emotionally based. Why is eating horse meat any different than eating beef? Safety is paramount and how will the public be assured that the horse meat is fit for human consumption is still uncertain.

Stay Tuned

The FY2012 appropriation bill and the Continuing Resolution (HR 933) on which it is based again permits FSIS to inspect horse processing plants. Previous bills included language that stated none of the funding for FSIS could be used to inspect horse slaughter facilities. The debate will not end. The controversy rages on as some states have even enacted legislation that bans horse slaughter with Illinois as an example while other states endorse horse slaughter.

Recent federal proposals have been introduced such as the Safeguard American Food Exports Act  (SAFE Act) of 2013 on March 12. SAFE would prohibit the sale, transport, import or export of equines, or their parts, to be slaughtered for human consumption. http://atwork.avma.org/2013/04/15/horse-slaughter-bill-is-revamped-reintroduced/