VERY BAD NEWS--USDA Sidesteps Congress and Allows Horse Slaughter for Meat
USDA: Horse slaughter for meat can continue
By TODD J. GILLMAN | Dallas Morning News
"WASHINGTON - Ignoring congressional disdain for the horsemeat industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Tuesday that it would allow slaughter of horses for human consumption to continue in Kaufman, Fort Worth and DeKalb, Ill.
Lawmakers cut off funding in November for inspection of such horses, whose meat ends up in the kitchens of France, Japan and a handful of other countries. But the three plants that process horse offered to pay for their own inspections, and the Agriculture Department has agreed.
'It’s absolutely outrageous,' said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of the Humane Society of the United States. 'The agency is substituting the judgment of Belgian and French chefs for the judgment of Congress.'
Both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly last year to cut funding for pre-slaughter horse inspections as part of an annual farm spending bill. The House vote was 269-158. The Senate vote was 69-28.
'USDA is playing games and thumbing its nose at Congress,' Mr. Markarian said.
...Bills are pending in the House and Senate to impose an outright ban on horse slaughter for human consumption. The House version, written by Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., has 144 co-sponsors, including four Texas Democrats, Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas, Gene Green and Al Green of Houston, and Charlie Gonzalez of San Antonio. The Senate version, by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., has 14 co-sponsors.
'Commerce and greed have ruled the day,' said Mr. Sweeney. 'This action is a direct defiance of congressional intent and must be addressed.'
In Plano, Richard Giron, Texas head of the American Horse Defense Fund, which has been trying to outlaw horse slaughter, called the Agriculture Department's move appalling. '
...Mr. Giron recently returned from Paris on a sales trip and spotted fresh American cheval in two or three butcher shops.
'It’s repulsive,' he said. 'Our government seems to be driven by this source of revenue and commerce, at the expense of disposing of animals in a non-humanitarian fashion. ...We’re so greed-driven these days. These animals don’t deserve this end.'
President Bush signed an apparent ban on horse slaughter into law in November. The measure bars the Agriculture Department from inspecting horses before slaughter. Because the federal Meat Inspection Act explicitly requires pre-slaughter inspection of cattle and other livestock, including horse, backers thought that would stamp out the $41 million-a-year horsemeat industry, which slaughters about 90,000 horses a year.
Beltex in Fort Worth already pays for inspections of emu, ostrich and wild boar and offered to pay for horse inspections, too. The Agriculture Department also offers a fee-for-service approach with elk, deer, rabbits and other exotic meat. A month ago, the department confirmed it was studying the companies’ proposal, and its lawyers maintained that such an approach would be allowed by law, because the November farm bill didn’t actually ban horse slaughter.
The Humane Society and others disagree, arguing that the fee-for-service loophole isn’t permissible because the Meat Inspection Act lists horses as among the species that require inspection by a USDA-paid inspector. In Kaufman, where many residents have been trying to drive out the Dallas Crown plant, which they consider a nuisance, Mayor Paula Bacon decried the agency for circumventing the will of Congress. 'It’s way, way wrong,' she said. 'We’re not losing this country to terrorists. It seems we are close to losing this country to special interests who have bought these regulators, who are now assuming legislative powers.'
Robert Eldridge, who lives near the Dallas Crown plant, also criticized the Agriculture Department.
'Whatever the company says, they do,” he said. "They just kind of stuck their finger up to Congress, didn’t they?'
Dallas Morning News staff writer Jim Getz contributed to this report.