Animal rights activists were dealt a blow two weeks ago when a ban on USDA horse meat inspections was quietly slipped out of an agricultural appropriations law, meaning that horse slaughter can resume in states that don't have their own prohibition, as Texas does.
"Texas will be held out of that until they change the state law," said Brent Gattis, a public-policy adviser who had served as a Washington lobbyist for the last three operating horse slaughter plants, Beltex/Frontier Meats in Fort Worth, Crown in Kaufman and a DeKalb, Ill., facility.
Gattis said nine states, mainly in the West, have passed resolutions supporting the return of horse slaughter, which ended in 2007. A 2006 appropriations bill omitted funding for horse meat inspectors, but the ban was stalled by legal action.
When a 1949 Texas law was upheld and a new Illinois law prohibiting horse slaughter was passed, challenges to the federal ban became moot, said Chris Hyde of the Washington-based Animal Welfare Institute, which lobbies against equine slaughter.
Since then, critics have cited the ban's unintended consequences, including a reported upswing in abused and abandoned horses, fueled by owners' inability to afford to keep them.
"A lot of the situation is due to the economy," Cheri White Owl of Guthrie, Okla., told The Associated Press. The nonprofit she founded, Horse Feathers Equine Rescue, is caring for 33 horses and can't accept more. "People are deciding to pay their mortgage or keep their horse."
White Owl is concerned that if slaughterhouses open, owners will dump their unwanted animals there instead of looking for alternatives, such as animal sanctuaries, she told The AP.
Meanwhile, as many horses are being slaughtered as before the ban, only the processing is done in Mexico and Canada, according to a 2011 government report.
"From 2006 through 2010, U.S. horse exports for slaughter increased by 148 percent to Canada and 660 percent to Mexico," totaling about 100,000 a year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said.
This year, horses shipped to Mexico for slaughter have increased 30 percent. Through Nov. 19, they totaled 60,169, up from 46,156, according to USDA statistics. Many are processed by European Union-approved facilities, which export cuts to Italy, Belgium, France, Sweden and other countries, which consider them either a cheaper alternative to beef or even a lean-meat delicacy.
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