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Horse meat slaughter poised to return to U.S.

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Animal rights groups are bracing for the federal government to license the first horse-meat slaughter plant in the U.S. since 2007, criticizing the Obama administration Friday for moving ahead with the application process.

The move comes as food stores and restaurants worldwide are reeling from reports that horse meat unknowingly made its way into burgers and lasagna.

Horse meat is edible, but many consumers recoil at the thought of eating it, and animal-rights activists argue it does not undergo the kinds of controls that other meat does, making it potentially less safe.

"Slaughtering horses for human consumption is archaic, inhumane and unsafe, given the medicine chest of drugs often administered to horses and prohibited for human consumption," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, in a statement Friday.

Valley Meat Company LLC, a New Mexico-based plant, has applied to become the first place in the U.S. approved to slaughter horse meat for consumption since 2007, and company officials said they've gotten word that their application is moving forward.

The New York Times reported that the Agriculture Department signaled to the company that it would soon approve inspections at Valley Meat, which would open the way for horse slaughter.

Congress in 2007 effectively banned horse slaughtering when it defunded the government's ability to inspect horse slaughter plants. Without inspections, the meat couldn't be sold.

But several years ago a government audit found that the ban was actually leading to worse conditions for horses, who were being sold to foreign slaughterhouses and being transported hundreds of miles in poor conditions.

The audit recommended Congress revisit the ban, and lawmakers let the prohibition drop.

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