The agriculture appropriations bill signed by President Obama shortly before Thanksgiving contained a little-known provision that allowed funding to be used to inspect horse slaughterhouses. The inspections were defunded in 2006, meaning that horse meat could no longer legally be sold in the U.S.
A June report by the Government Accountability Office found that the ban depressed horse prices and led to an increase in neglect and abuse for older horses, since it was no longer profitable for owners to care for them. Removing the ban on funding will probably result in a reversal of these trends.
To be sure, the opening of any horse slaughterhouse would not be controversy-free. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) haspromised to generate litigation and legislation against anyone who tries toopen a horse slaughterhouse. HSUS would prefer to see a ban on horse slaughter in the U.S. as well as a ban on horse exports, meaning that it would be illegal for horse owners to ship their animals to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.
Some folks around the blogosphere have suggested a creative solution for dealing with this problem: each person who opposes horse slaughter must care for one unbroken, lame, sick, old, or dangerous horse for the remainder of its life. This can be done for the bargain-basement rate of $100-$150 per month as long as the caretaker has plenty of hay and land and does not need any veterinary care. Any takers on this proposal?
The victory for horse slaughter proponents could be short-lived. The House of Representatives is currently considering the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 2966) which, as the name suggests, would ban the slaughtering of horses within the U.S. The bill is currently in the Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry.
Prior to 2006, and the most likely scenario if and when horse slaughter facilities in the U.S. re-open, most of the meat was exported to Europe and Asia. It is possible, although highly unlikely, that lifting this ban will lead to a dramatic increase in consumption of horses within the U.S. By once again funding the inspection of U.S. horse slaughter facilities, you will probably see a drop in cases of horse abuse and neglect as it once again becomes profitable for farmers to care for their older horses. What you will not see is a horseburger coming to a dinner table near you. After all, it is completely legal to wear your clothes inside-out, but that does not mean that everyone will suddenly start doing it.