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Budget buffet: Obama moves to take horse meat off the menu

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Buried inside President Obama's budget this week is a demand that Congress stop inspections of horse meat slaughter plants — a move that would halt the industry, just as it's poised to ramp up again.

In proposing the ban, Mr. Obama is wading into a thorny issue that has divided horse enthusiasts and others.

"It is wonderful to see our government taking steps to ensure American horses are not slaughtered on our own soil for foreign demand," said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Animals, "especially in light of the daily news from Europe about the horrors of discovering horse meat in their food supply from co-mingling with beef in tainted food products."

Congress had banned horse slaughter for meat for years, but lifted the ban two years ago after its auditors found the prohibition backfired. The Government Accountability Office found horses were being transported to foreign countries for slaughter, and were suffering inhumane treatment along the way.

Mr. Obama signed the 2011 spending bill that ended the ban — but has now moved to reimpose it.

Like the old ban, the president's new proposal wouldn't directly outlaw horse slaughter, but it would prevent inspectors from staffing slaughterhouses. Without inspectors, the plants can't operate.

Rep. Adrian Smith, a Nebraska Republican who was critical of the ban, said Mr. Obama's move could again backfire.

"This policy would threaten the well-being of the very animals it seeks to protect," Mr. Smith said. "Inspections ensure humane, accountable, and legal horse management, and efforts like this proposal ignore the economic impacts, especially on Western states, of eliminating U.S. processing."

Since the ban was lifted in late 2011, no plants have been approved. But animal rights groups said six have filed applications and one, in New Mexico, is close to getting approval.

Horse meat is regularly used for consumption by circuses and zoos, and it is now sent to countries in the Eastern Hemisphere where it is an accepted food. But slaughter has been a prickly issue in the U.S.

Animal-rights activists say U.S. horses aren't raised for food and are treated with drugs that could be harmful if ingested by people.

European countries this year have faced problems with horse meat being mixed in with beef being sent to market. Some countries have also reported detecting questionable drugs in horse meat that was slaughtered for human consumption.

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