Local horse meat? Congress says sure, for now

The federal government has moved to lift restrictions on horse slaughter for human food. But don't hold your breath—this happened in 2011, too.


by H. Claire Brown, The New Food Economy

July 13th , 2017


Fans of sfilacci di cavallo, malgogi-yukhoe, basashi, or regular old entrecôte of horse have a new cause for celebration: Locally sourced horse meat may soon be available in the United States.  A controversial lift on a de facto ban of horse slaughter for human consumption passed a crucial hurdle in the House on Wednesday—by just one vote, the Miami-Herald reports.


Domestic horse slaughter is effectively banned as a result of amendments that have been repeatedly passed in Department of Agriculture budget appropriations bills since 2005 (there have been a few exceptions—more on that in a minute). These amendments ban the use of government funding for inspecting facilities that slaughter horses. From 2005 to 2007, horse slaughterhouses were allowed to foot the bill for their own USDA inspections, but that loophole soon closed. And since slaughterhouses that don’t have USDA approval can’t really sell meat anywhere, all three U.S. slaughter facilities that used to deal in horse meat shuttered by the end of 2007.


But the election of Donald Trump got animal rights advocates and ranchers alike wondering if changes were ahoof. “There’s a new sheriff in town,” rancher and Republican state Rep. Warren Love of Missouri told the Kansas City Star. A humane society spokeswoman told the paper she anticipated “a major battle over horse slaughter.”


So here we are at the start of that battle: The amendment that would keep the ban in place has been struck down in a 27-25 vote in appropriations. Next, the Department of Agriculture funding bill has to pass the House. Will we all be eating horse burgers by the end of the summer?


Not so fast. This has all happened before, as recently as 2013. Turns out, once the horse slaughterhouses shutter, it’s really hard to open them back up.


Before we get into bleak story of the slaughterhouse hopefuls of the early 2010s, a quick recap on why this issue is so controversial. The anti-horse slaughter side is pretty obvious—anyone who’s ever hung out with an 11-year-old girl understands the gist of that argument. Horses have big brown eyes, horses are smart, horses are our friends. There’s also some evidence that the slaughter process itself is especially inhumane, and opponents have argued that horse slaughter carries serious food safety and environmental implications. The ASPCA has been a highly vocal opponent of horse slaughter for a long time, and animal rights activists were instrumental in passing the initial ban.


But as the Christian Science Monitor points out, slaughtering horses to export their meat to Europe and Asia was a $4 million industry prior to the ban. And since the U.S.-based slaughterhouses closed, live animals have been shipped from the U.S. to Mexico and Canada to be slaughtered and sold as meat there. A whole sub-industry of “kill buyers” has sprung up to resell horses to slaughterhouses abroad, and the Miami Herald estimates more than 100,000 animals are shipped across the border alive every year. That journey can be long and grueling for the animals, and proponents of slaughter in the U.S. say keeping it in-country might actually be more humane...


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