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June 28, 2013

USDA Approves Horse Slaughter, Despite Overwhelming Opposition

Today, in a mystifying and infuriating decision, the U.S. Department of Agriculture granted an inspection permit to a discredited horse slaughter plant operator in New Mexico, bringing the nation closer to its first horse slaughter operation since federal courts and state lawmakers shuttered the last three U.S.-based plants in 2007. The USDA has let it be known that it may also approve horse slaughter plants in Iowa and Missouri next week.

Consider these facts, each of which should have been sufficient to dissuade the USDA from proceeding with this inspection permit for New Mexico.


  • The USDA granted the permit even though Republican Governor Susanna Martinez and Democratic Attorney General Gary King oppose the opening of the facility in their state. 
  • The department took this action even though Congress, in its 2014 agriculture spending bill, is poised to forbid the USDA from spending money on horse slaughter inspections. In June, both the House and Senate appropriations committees approved amendments to defund any horse slaughter plants.
  • The USDA is moving ahead even though the Obama Administration, in its 2014 budget proposal to Congress, recommended a defunding of horse slaughter plants. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has called for a “third way” in dealing with unwanted horses and expressed opposition to horse slaughter.
  • Approval was granted even though The HSUS submitted a petition to the USDA that provides incontrovertible evidence that horses are routinely fed or dosed with more than 100 different drugs unfit for human consumption. 
  • The USDA pursued this course of action just months after Europeans learned the hard way that horse slaughter operators and meat traders substituted their product for beef, throwing the European beef market and consumer confidence in the safety and integrity of the food supply into a tailspin. 
  • Horse slaughter is being approved in spite of polling information indicating that an overwhelming majority of the American public – to the tune of 80 percent – opposes slaughtering American horses for human consumption.

I’ve been asked why the Administration would take this action, contradicting its own stated goal to end horse slaughter. And I cannot explain it, other than the lawyers at the USDA driving the train and offering a highly legalistic view of the controversy, given that Valley Meat has sued the USDA for unreasonably delaying action on its application. We seem to have a case where the decision-makers have decided they are obligated to grant the permit when there is a fact pattern that screams at them from every angle that they should not grant that permit.

Horses bound for slaughter
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
Horses held in export pens before transported for slaughter.

The Administration wouldn’t grant an inspection permit for a dog slaughterhouse even if the application for the permit was properly filled out and the operator hired a lawyer to compel action. Local and national opposition to such an idea would be more than convincing in compelling the USDA to keep any plant from opening up and sucking dogs into the slaughter lines.

The HSUS will work with state authorities to block this plant from opening, and will join Front Range Equine Rescue in taking the USDA to court on this issue

Horse slaughter is not humane euthanasia and is a betrayal of our trusted companions. The entire pipeline of horse slaughter, including auctions and transport in crowded trailers in freezing cold or oppressive heat, is abusive. The slaughter process itself is horribly cruel and many horses suffer during the misguided and often repeated attempts to render them unconscious.   

Sensible policy makers don’t want to see a bloodbath in the United States resume. Let’s hope we can hold off slaughter until the defund language, expected to take effect in a few months, becomes law.

Now is the time to express your concern to your members of Congress and urge them to pass the Safeguard American Food Exports Act to shut the door on horse slaughter once and for all.

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