Current Status of Federal Laws Affecting Horse Slaughter

I have been working on a post outlining my personal stance on whether horse slaughter should be resumed in the United States. Last week, we discussed the legal history of horse slaughter in Texas. To provide a more complete backdrop for my upcoming post, I am providing for you this week a summary of federal laws addressing horse slaughter.  For as the old cliché goes, you can't know where you are going until you know where you have been. 

Starting in Fiscal Year 2006, Congress included language in annual appropriations bills that prohibited the use of federal funds for inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for horses in transit to slaughter and at slaughter facilities. At that time, the three remaining U.S. slaughterhouses included Dallas Crown, Inc. in Kaufman, Texas, Beltex Corporation in Fort Worth, Texas, and Cavel International, Inc. in DeKalb, Illinois. These facilities stayed open by paying for these inspections under a voluntary fee-for-service program implemented by USDA in February 2006.

Photo:  A plate of horse sashimi, as served at restaurants in Japan.

In 2007, Dallas Crown and Beltex shut down their operations in Texas due to a decision of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals delivered in January of that year. See this post for details.

Utilizing the USDA fee-for-service program, Cavel continued its operations in Illinois for a few more months in 2007 until the following things happened: 1) in March 2007, a federal district court determined that it is illegal for slaughterhouses to pay the USDA for horsemeat inspections; 2) in September 2007, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an Illinois law prohibiting slaughter of horses for human consumption. This essentially shut down the industry in the US, because meat cannot be sold for human consumption without being inspected.

From Fiscal Year 2008 to Fiscal Year 2011, Congress included a prohibition on the use of federal funds for implementation of the fee-for-service program in each annual Agricultural Appropriations Bill. 

In 2011, the Government Accountability Office issued this report detailing some of the negative consequences caused by the closure of the slaughter plants. Shortly thereafter, Congress removed its prohibition on the use of federal funds to inspect horses at slaughter for Fiscal Year 2012. 

Since last year, new horse slaughterhouses have been proposed in New Mexico, Missouri and Oregon, and laws that would permit them to be built more easily have been proposed in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

In June 2012, an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2013 Agricultural Appropriations Bill passed the Appropriations Committee. This amendment seeks to expressly eliminate federal funding for USDA inspections of horse slaughter facilities for Fiscal Year 2013. The bill as amended must now be approved by the full House and then go to the Senate.

Although the domestic slaughter of horses for human food has stopped for the time being, USDA’s Slaughter Horse Transport Program continues to operate. Established in 2001, the program is intended to ensure that horses travelling to slaughter are fit to travel and handled humanely en route. Among other things, the program collects and reviews shipping documents and inspects rigs used to transport these horses. Prior to 2012, because of the prohibition on using federal funds for inspecting horses transported to slaughter, the transport program was not able to inspect the condition of horses designated for slaughter during their transport. I have not yet been able to locate any data suggesting that this has changed due to the absence of the funding prohibition in the 2012 Appropriations Bill.