- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

It took a court order for Congress’ 2005 horse-slaughter ban to finally take effect. The last slaughtering facility closed its doors Thursday morning in DeKalb, Ill. after the U.S. District Court struck down a Department of Agriculture scheme designed from the start to circumvent the year-and-a-half-old legislation to outlaw the slaughtering of horses for human consumption. The whole episode shows the lengths to which federal regulators will go to disobey Congress if an agency stands to lose regulatory powers — or, in this case, a regulated constituency.

Until this year, the U.S. horsemeat industry consisted of three plants in Illinois and Texas which butchered about 90,000 horses annually for export primarily to France and Belgium. The domestic market for this revolting “delicacy” is virtually nil; its consumption is illegal in several states, including Texas, where two of the three U.S. plants were shuttered in January. The fact that the industry lasted this long is testament to the power of lobbying, and, of course, to the eternal federal agency.

Acting from the sense that horses are “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” and thus (as with the venerated bald eagle ) — it is barbaric to kill them for human consumption, Congress stripped funding in November 2005 for USDA’s horsemeat-inspection activities. Without inspections, there’s no meat. The measure would “stop the slaughter of horses for human consumption,” said Sen. Robert Byrd, a cosponsor. That’s clear enough.

There began the chicanery. In blatant disregard of congressional intent, the Agriculture Department devised a “fee-for-service” scheme whereby the horsemeat industry, not taxpayers, would finance the inspections. The matter went to court, and finally this week the U.S. District Court threw out USDA’s attempt to get around Congress. The players in opposition included the cattle industry, which believed that free-range horses damaged grazing lands; foreign horseflesh producers and consumers; and of course regulators who stood to lose “business.”

This is a case where the veneration of a national symbol outweighs laissez-faire instincts. American horses should never be served up for the pleasure of barbaric foreign palates. Pending in Congress currently are two bills (H.R. 503 and S. 311) to prohibit the transport of American horses across the border to Mexico for slaughter. These, too, should pass, or else we’ve simply averted our eyes without preventing the slaughter and abuse of the noble steed.

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