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Congress Blocks Slaughtering Horses For Meat In U.S.

Americans may recoil at the thought of eating horse meat, but other countries feel quite differently, as the sign above this butcher shop in Paris attests.
Jacques Brinon
Americans may recoil at the thought of eating horse meat, but other countries feel quite differently, as the sign above this butcher shop in Paris attests.

When a federal ban on slaughtering horses to produce horse meat was lifted several years back, ranchers including Rick De Los Santos, a New Mexico rancher and owner of Valley Meat Co., stepped up to start operations with an aim to export the meat.

But, as we've reported, his plans for a horse meat slaughterhouse have hit major roadblocks. There have been lawsuits to stop him and others trying to get into the business. And plenty of stories about the ick factor evoked by the image of butchering a beautiful thoroughbred.

Now, given a bit of language written into the omnibus spending bill that was approved by the Senate on Thursday night, it's seeming more certain that there will be no horse slaughtering on U.S. soil in the foreseeable future. The House already approved the spending measure, which now heads to President Obama for his signature.

The provision bans the funding of U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections at horse slaughter plants. And without inspections, slaughterhouses can't be in business. Game over.

"Americans do not want to see scarce tax dollars used to oversee an inhumane, disreputable horse slaughter industry," Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society argues in a press release. He has been lobbying for a ban on funding for horse slaughter inspections.

"We don't have dog and cat slaughter plants in the U.S. catering to small markets overseas, and we shouldn't have horse slaughter operations for that purpose, either," Pacelle writes.

For retiring Rep. (D-Va.), it's a win he helped usher through.

"These incredible companion animals don't deserve to be callously slaughtered for human consumption," his office wrote in an email to The Salt. "We fought hard for the past three years to reinstate this ban to prevent slaughter facilities from reopening on American soil."

The flip side of the argument is that horse slaughter is a practical way to handle the problem of abandoned horses. Horses can be very expensive to maintain, and when owners can't afford them, it's not unheard of for them to be sent to factories in Mexico and Canada.

That's the argument put forth by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who tried but failed to strike the ban on funding inspections from the spending bill.

"Without these facilities, aging horses are often neglected or forced to endure cruel conditions as they are transported to processing facilities across the border," Inhofe wrote in a release. "This provision is counterproductive to what animal rights activists are hoping to achieve."

And Inhofe is not giving up yet.

Before Thursday night's Senate vote, Inhofe said he and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OKla.) plan to introduce separate legislation that would lift the ban on funding for horse slaughterhouse inspections.

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Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.