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US officials approve only horse slaughterhouse

June 28, 2013

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (AP) — U.S. officials have cleared the way for a return to domestic horse slaughter, granting a company’s application to convert its cattle facility into the country’s only horse processing plant.

A return to horse slaughter has divided animal welfare groups, ranchers, politicians and Indian tribes over the most humane way to deal with the country’s horse overpopulation and what rescue groups have said is a rising number of neglected and starving horses as the West deals with persistent drought.

Valley Meat Co. wants to ship horse meat to countries where people cook with it or feed it to animals.

The number of U.S. horses sent to other countries for slaughter has nearly tripled since domestic slaughter was banned in 2006, according a 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office that shows horse abuse and abandonment have been increasing.

Proponents of a return to domestic horse slaughter say it is better to slaughter the animals in humane, federally regulated facilities than have them abandoned to starve or shipped to inhumane facilities in Mexico.

Many humane groups agree that some of the worst abuse occurs in the slaughter pipeline. Many are pushing for a both a ban on domestic slaughter as well as a ban on shipping horses to Mexico and Canada.

Congress reinstated funding for inspections at horse processing plants in 2011, but the Department of Agriculture had resisted approving Valley Meat Co.’s application, prompting a company lawsuit accusing the USDA of intentionally delaying the process because the Obama administration opposes horse slaughter.

In approving Valley Meat Co. plans to produce horse meat in New Mexico, USDA officials also indicated that they would grant similar permits to companies in Iowa and Missouri as early as next week.

The USDA is lobbying for an outright ban on horse slaughter, and the Obama administration’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year eliminates funding for inspections of horse slaughterhouses, which would effectively reinstate a ban on the industry.

The company’s attorney said on Friday that he remained skeptical about Valley Meat Co.’s chances of opening any time soon, as the USDA must send an inspector to oversee operations and two animal rights groups have threated lawsuits to block the opening.

The Humane Society of the United States and Front Range Equine Rescue said they would follow through on plans to file suit to try to block the resumption of horse slaughter.

“This is very far from over,” company attorney Blair Dunn said.

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Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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