From yesterday's Toronto Star: www.thestar.com/news/article/1095751
This week U.S. Congress quietly lifted a five-year ban on funding horse meat inspections, opening the possibility that slaughterhouses could be up and running within weeks. In 2006, the U.S. federal government stopped providing funds for inspections at plants that slaughter horses intended for human consumption.
Since then horses that would have been slaughtered in the U.S. have been diverted to plants in Mexico and Canada.
"It was all done secretly," says Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, who says she and her member ranchers were pleased with the news. "It was passed by Congress in a budget meeting."
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a statement Tuesday confirming that it was prepared to inspect facilities set up for horse slaughter to make sure federal laws were being followed. And the first facility may be in South Dakota.
Christen believes there are facilities prepared to go into action almost immediately. But she also says inspections will be "more stringent than they were before the ban. There will be a lot of people watching to make sure slaughter facilities follow appropriate procedures - to make sure they treat the animals humanely."
This summer, reporters from the Star followed a trailer truck filled with horses purchased at auction in Shipshewana, Ind., through to its final destination at Richelieu Meats near Montreal. The shocking revelation of the long drive and poor treatment led one Toronto restaurant to remove horse meat from its menu.
At issue was not simply the morality of eating horse meat but rather the mistreatment of horses shipped in cramped conditions without food or water over days toward certain, and perhaps inhumane, death in Canada.
The U.S. Government Accountability office reported that 138,000 horses were transported to Canada or Mexico in 2010 - virtually the same number killed before slaughter was banned in the U.S.
Equine welfare advocates were hoping the ban would remain in effect and there would be an additional ban on the transportation of horses meant for slaughter across borders. That didn't happen.
Canada was even labelled "opportunistic" - taking advantage of a situation in which horses could be purchased in the U.S. for less than $50 and sold toEurope and Asia at a considerable profit. Some horse meat is also consumed in Quebec.
It is a controversial issue that has even horse lovers divided. While some animal welfare organizations insist horses should not be slaughtered for human consumption, others, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, acknowledge there is a problem with horse overpopulation in the U.S. - and that it would be better to kill the animals humanely rather than
allow them to starve to death.
For example, as horse owners lost their farms to foreclosure during the economic downturn over the past few years, there were reports that horses were being set free in open ranges to survive on their own. Ultimately many horses, unaccustomed to fending for themselves, died slowly and painfully, say equine advocates.
Animal welfare organizations noticed a spike in horse neglect investigations after 2007.
But many animal lovers insist horses are not like cows or sheep in that they are not raised to be eaten and are often medicated with drugs rendering them unfit for human consumption. And the European Union, a large buyer of horse meat, has increased its own inspection standards regarding the safety of the meat in imports.
Many ranchers, however, are celebrating.
One Wyoming lawmaker dismissed the 2006 ban, which took its toll on the state's agriculture industry, for what she called sentimental notions.
The legislation has already sparked an emotional response from animal rights activists.
Sinikka Crosland, executive director of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, says she was disappointed to hear the news that horse slaughter plants could reopen in the U.S. She was surprised U.S. President Barack Obama would sign such a bill considering he had previously indicated he did not support horse slaughter.
"A few people managed to slip this through in the Department of Agriculture," says Crosland, who remains optimistic a federal bill, currently before Congress called the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011, will supersede this recent bill and end horse slaughter completely.