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USDA May OK The Country's First Horse Slaughter Plant In 6 Years

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The United States Department of Agriculture is on track to open the country's first horse slaughter plant in six years.

The last horse processing plant was shuttered in 2007 after Congress approved a bill that forbid the USDA from using any of its funds to inspect horse meat. Since then, horses that were raised for human consumption were shipped off to be slaughtered in Canada or Mexico, where inspection laws aren't as stringent. In 2011, Congress "quietly" removed a rider in the appropriations bill that forbid any money from going to horse inspections.

That means that technically the inspections have been legal since 2011, but the USDA has refused to do any inspections. And now a processing plant in Roswell, New Mexico owned by Valley Meat Company is pressing the issue. Last fall it sued the USDA to restart its inspection program so that it can open up a plant. The New York Times reports that the USDA is likely to approve the plant in the next two months.

The plant says it plans to raise horse meat that it would sell to Europeans, but if a market for horse meat opens up back here in the states, it would consider that, too. The fear of consumers, of course, is that once the processing plant opens back up and business comes back to the States, horse meat will find its way into beef products like Taco Bell tacos and Ikea meatballs, as it has in many European countries.

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Says the New York Times:

Horse meat is not necessarily unsafe, and in some countries, it is popular. But some opponents of horse slaughtering say consumption of horse meat is ill-advised because of the use of various kinds of drugs in horses

The Humane Society has petitioned the Agriculture Department and the FDA to delay approval of any facility for horse slaughter, raising questions about the presence of drugs like phenylbutazone, which is used to treat inflammation in horses. And there's no doubt that PETA will likely jump on board with protests too, given their track record.