- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2006

Some of us eat like horses. But few would actually eat a horse, which is why animal rights activists, celebrities and members of Congress from both parties are joining forces to stop the practice of selling horses for food.

In a vote last year on the Department of Agriculture’s annual budget, 249 House members and 68 senators approved an amendment blocking USDA funds from being used to inspect horse food processing plants. Although it passed with broad support, the amendment is being challenged by the USDA.

With the support of a Belgian horse food distributor, the USDA is attempting to make use of a loophole that allows private companies to pay for inspections.

“There’s a culture of arrogance at the USDA,” said Jeff Miles, spokesman for Rep. Ed Whitfield, Kentucky Republican. “They are disregarding a vote in Congress to help three foreign-based companies.”

The three slaughtering plants include two in Texas and one in Illinois. All of the meat from the plants is shipped out of the country, with France, Belgium, Japan and Italy as the main consumers of horse meat.

A coalition of animal rights groups, including the Society for Animal Protective Legislation (SAPL), filed a motion Wednesday in federal court for a temporary restraining order to block the USDA. The USDA policy allowing for private inspections is scheduled to go into effect March 10.

According to a SAPL statement, the coalition will argue the USDA’s move “circumvents Congress’ intent in enacting the recent ban on commercial horse slaughter,” and “violates the Federal Meat Inspection Act’s requirement that the agency — not private parties — pay the cost of inspection.”

In addition to the USDA, previous opposition to the ban has come from Republican Reps. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Henry Bonilla of Texas, and Sen. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican, according to Chris Heyde, deputy legislative director for the SAPL.

Brittany Eck, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bonilla, disputed Mr. Heyde, pointing out the amendment did pass through Mr. Bonilla’s committee.

Congress is now considering the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, in another attempt to put the practice to rest. Sens. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, and Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, are co-sponsors. Mr. Stevens is chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which can hold hearings on the issue.

“There’s been a majority of support for this legislation I never expected,” said Mr. Heyde.

In addition to Mr. Whitfield, the proposal has public support from House members including John Sweeney, New York Republican, and John Spratt, South Carolina Democrat. “We hope to have hearings in early spring and a vote soon after that,” said Sweeney spokesman David Taft.

Celebrity supporters of the legislation include country singer Willie Nelson, actress Bo Derek and rock star Paul McCartney. Miss Derek recently appeared for five hours on XM Satellite radio to promote the cause and is a scheduled guest to discuss the topic on today’s edition of “The O’Reilly Factor.”

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