Congress Blocks Slaughter of Horses in United States (Again)

The resumption of commercial horse slaughter in the United States was blocked on Friday, January 17, when President Obama signed a congressional budget bill that removed funding for USDA inspection of horse slaughter plants. This action on the part of Congress and the President effectively takes horse slaughter in this country off the table for now.

A similar federal budget measure passed in 2006 shuttered the industry in 2007. Money for federal inspections of horse meat was restored in 2011, and several proposed plants have received USDA permits. However, court orders in suits brought by animal rights activists and others have stopped any horse slaughter plants from opening.

The latest of these lawsuits is a suit in New Mexico state court brought by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King. King sued Valley Meat Co., a permit holder who wished to convert its former beef slaughterhouse into an equine processing plant, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled that Valley Meat could commence slaughter operations. That suit is still pending. 

Blair Dunn, attorney for Valley Meat and another plant in Missouri, told news sources, “I don’t see them opening now. No matter what, they are not going to violate the law.” However, Dunn says Valley Meat will continue to wage a legal fight to convert its cattle processing plant to the slaughtering of horses.  According to Dunn, the federal move to withhold money for meat inspections could cause U.S. trade violations.  Valley Meat is also trying to disqualify Judge Matthew Wilson, the New Mexico district judge presiding over the state court suit, because of comments posted by horse slaughter opponents on a Facebook page for the judge’s election campaign.

Related Posts:

10th Circuit Allows Horse Slaughter Plants to Commence Operations

Humane Society, et al File Appeal after Federal Judge Dismisses Horse Slaughter Suit

Federal Court Blocks Horse Slaughter at Two Plants

10th Circuit Allows Horse Slaughter Plants to Commence Operations

In an order dated December 13, 2013, a copy of which can be downloaded here, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit denied an emergency motion for injunction pending appeal filed by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other animal rights groups. The motion sought to halt horse slaughter operations at three U.S. plants pending the final resolution of the animal rights groups’ appeal.

The HSUS and other animal rights groups had originally filed suit in New Mexico federal court seeking to permanently enjoin officials from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) from carrying out federal meat inspections at three horse slaughter facilities. The district court entered a temporary restraining order that halted slaughter operations while the merits of the case could be decided. Ultimately, the district court rejected the arguments of the animal rights groups, denied their request for permanent injunctive relief, and dismissed their case with prejudice.

The animal rights groups appealed the case to the 10th Circuit court of appeals, and sought an emergency injunction staying horse slaughter operations until the appeal could be heard. The 10th Circuit denied the animal rights groups’ motion, holding that the animal rights groups failed to establish a likelihood of success on appeal or irreparable harm to the plaintiffs. 

Horse slaughter operations may now commence under the trial court’s decision, even though the merits of that decision are currently being considered by the 10th Circuit. Operations may continue indefinitely unless and until the 10th Circuit, after considering full merits briefing and oral argument, ultimately ends up siding with the animal rights groups.

Related Posts:

Humane Society, et al File Appeal after Federal Judge Dismisses Horse Slaughter Suit

Federal Court Blocks Horse Slaughter at Two Plants

Case Information: Front Range Equine Rescue, et al v. Tom Vilsack, et al, Cause No. 1:13-cv-00639-MCA-RHS (D.N.M. Nov. 1, 2013); Front Range Equine Rescue, et al v. Tom Vilsack, et al, Cause No. 13-2187 (10th Cir.)

Humane Society, et al File Appeal after Federal Judge Dismisses Horse Slaughter Suit

As discussed in this prior post, the Humane Society of the United States and a variety of other groups and individuals brought suit to permanently enjoin the slaughter of horses at two plants that had been granted Food Safety Inspection Service permits. 

On November 1, 2013, after originally granting a temporary injunction staying operations at the plants, U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo denied the plaintiffs’ request for permanent injunction and dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice. A copy of the court’s Memorandum Opinion and Order can be downloaded here. Accordingly, the temporary injunction previously issued by the court expired, allowing horse slaughter operations to commence at the plants who had been issued permits.

On November 1, 2013, the Humane Society of the United States, et al, appealed the case to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, and moved for a temporary stay of Judge Armijo’s Memorandum Opinion and Order. On November 4, 2013, the Tenth Circuit temporarily stayed the district court's Memorandum Opinion and Order, to allow the court "adequate time to consider the matter.” The Tenth Circuit’s order can be downloaded here

Until the Tenth Circuit acts, the horse slaughter plants currently holding permits cannot commence operations. 

Valley Meat Company’s attorney, Blair Dunn, told The Horse that death threats had been made against Valley Meat Company’s owners.

Case InformationFront Range Equine Rescue, et al v. Tom Vilsack, et al, Cause No. 1:13-cv-00639-MCA-RHS (D.N.M. Nov. 1, 2013); Front Range Equine Rescue, et al v. Tom Vilsack, et al, Cause No. 13-2187 (10th Cir.)

Federal Court Blocks Horse Slaughter at Two Plants

On August 2, 2013, judge Christina Armijo of the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico in Albuquerque granted a 30-day temporary restraining order preventing the commencement of horse slaughter at two plants—Valley Meat Co. LLC in Roswell, New Mexico and Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, Iowa.

Earlier this summer, both of those plants had received Food Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) permits, which allow placement of USDA personnel at processing plants to carry out horsemeat inspections. Horse processing was slated to begin at both plants on August 5, 2013.

This would have been the first time horse slaughter had taken place in the U.S. since 2007, when a combination of court rulings and legislation caused the closure of the last two domestic processing plants operating in Illinois and Texas.

The lawsuit against the slaughter plants was brought by the Humane Society of the United States and other groups who oppose horse slaughter.

According to some sources, the court’s ruling was based on an allegedly flawed environmental review of one or both of the plants. Further, the court has reportedly prohibited USDA inspectors from further involvement with the plants. 

Arsonists set fire to Valley Meat Company’s plant on or around July 30, 2013, just before the plant was scheduled to commence operations. “They tried to burn the place down,” Valley Meat Co. owner Rick De Los Santos said in reference to opponents who have been making threats against the company over the past year.

A bond hearing is scheduled for today, whereby the court will determine the amount of money the plaintiffs must put up as a bond to cover the plants’ economic losses, in the event that plaintiffs lose the suit.

Why Banning Horse Slaughter is Such a Terrible Idea

Author’s Note: This post is purely editorial in nature. The views expressed in this post are 100% mine. I have not canvassed my clients or the other members of my firm to get their take on horse slaughter, nor do I intend to do so. My views are not necessarily the views of my clients, my firm, or the other lawyers who practice at my firm.

First off, I cannot express in words how much I detest the word “ban.” I dislike it so much that I wish Merriam-Webster would take it out of the dictionary. Why? Because “it ought to be banned!” has become the battle cry of the self-righteous busybodies, some of whom are multi-million dollar concerns, and others who are just individuals who have far too much spare time on their hands. The do-gooders who relish the phrase “it ought to be banned!” are known to meddle in other people’s business, usually with the goal of using our government to force their will upon us, their fellow citizens. 

Photo:  A horsemeat sandwich, as served by street vendors in Venice, Italy

Let’s for a moment put the word “ban” in perspective. Killing people is not “banned” in the United States. Our citizens may kill another person in self-defense. Police officers and members of our Armed Forces may kill people, and do so regularly. Similarly, the use and distribution of powerful, addictive narcotics is not “banned” in this country. Doctors administer and prescribe opioids and other powerful drugs daily. Yet some people think there out to be an outright “ban” on horse slaughter in this country. 

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. That's about where we’re headed if our federal government kowtows to the radical powerful anti-horse-slaughter lobby, and enacts an outright prohibition of horse slaughter.

Unintended Consequences of the Closure of the U.S. Plants

To generally summarize this June 2011 Government Accountability Office report, the horse market tanked after the closure of the U.S. horse slaughter plants in 2007. The GAO gave multiple reasons for the decline—including the drought and the economy, but the cessation of domestic slaughter was clearly indicated as a factor in the report. Veterinarians surveyed by the GAO reported that horse welfare declined across the board, with a 50% or greater increase in abandonment and neglect cases in some states. The nationwide capacity of horse rescue facilities is about 6,000 head of horses, and the vast majority of these are already full. Legislative prohibitions on using federal funds for inspecting horses prior to slaughter impede USDA’s and APHIS’s ability to oversee the transport and welfare of U.S. horses intended for slaughter. The number of horses shipped to Mexico and Canada for slaughter increased by 660% and 148%, respectively, after the closure of the slaughter plants. This resulted in total distance travelled by slaughter horses to increase by approximately 200 miles. Once a horse crosses the border into Canada or Mexico, APHIS no longer has authority to oversee their welfare, and our laws related to the humane slaughter of animals no longer apply.

While some anti-slaughter advocates place blame on market forces and irresponsible owners, PETA generally agrees with the GAO’s conclusion that horse suffering has increased due to the closure of the slaughter plants. But what is PETA’s answer? “Let’s ban horse slaughter…and let’s also ban the export of horses to other countries for slaughter!” There is certainly a lot of banning going on with this seemingly untenable position. 

Flawed Logic

I never understood why is it suddenly inhumane to slaughter a horse, but not other mammalian livestock such as a pig, cow, or sheep.  One reason opponents give is that horses are "pampered", and are used to being treated as pets.  Even if this were true of all horses, what of the FFA and 4-H show animals that go to slaughter each year?  There is no outcry to ban the slaughter of these animals.  Further, it is also puzzling to me that the majority of people who believe horse slaughter is barbaric support abortion in humans.

Fact: there is an unwanted horse problem in this country. There are simply some horses who are not adoptable—perhaps because they are dangerous, or perhaps because the cost to “repurpose” them and care for them throughout their life far outweighs their potential usefulness to humans. Some anti-horse-slaughter advocates outright deny the unwanted horse problem. They argue that virtually every horse is adoptable, and that the ones who are not adoptable should be euthanized by a veterinarian and disposed of properly.  Some statistics on the high cost of euthanasia and proper disposal have been published here.  In general, anti-slaughter advocates are short on pragmatic or realistic solutions to the unwanted horse problem.

If virtually all horses were adoptable, there would be no need for horse slaughter. The U.S. slaughtered approximately 105,000 horses in 2006, the last full year the Texas and Illinois plants were operational. See GAO report at 8. This is a manageable number, especially when you look at the amount of money that has been poured into the “horse slaughter ban” efforts. The Humane Society of the United States, which is just one of the many animal rights advocacy groups in this country, had approximately $150 million in revenue for 2010 alone. These numbers, on their face, seem to indicate that the HSUS could have, possibly single-handedly, rehomed those horses that were adoptable, and caused those that were not adoptable to be euthanized and properly disposed of. Meanwhile, the HSUS has paid lawyers and lobbyists untold amounts to promote its political agendas such as a federal ban on horse slaughter and horse export for slaughter.  

According to this HSUS publication, horse slaughter was costly to taxpayers. But even if the slaughter companies paid all costs associated with horse slaughter through a fee-for-service program or the like, HSUS says it should still be banned. But the HSUS has not published estimated figures on what it would cost our taxpayers to enforce their proposed ban on the export of horses for slaughter. It is common knowledge that we cannot even control the movement of illegal immigrants or illegal drugs across our borders, and we’re spending millions of taxpayer dollars on those efforts. Also, the HSUS is silent on the amount of domestic revenue and jobs that were lost when the slaughterhouses shut their doors.

Obstacles to Re-Implementation of Horse Slaughter in the U.S.

If I were an investor looking to put up the capital to build a new horse slaughterhouse in this country, I would first determine solutions to the serious economic and political hurdles currently facing this industry in the United States. Namely,

·       New European Union regulations that will become effective on July 31, 2013 will require all non-EU countries to provide lifetime medication records for all horses entering the EU food chain. Furthermore, horses that have been given certain commonly-used drugs, such as phenylbutazone, must be excluded from the EU food chain.

·       The threat of domestic terrorism on the slaughter facilities by animal rights activists. If you do not believe this problem exists, a federal law was enacted to address the issue.

·       The possibility of future legislative changes that may directly or indirectly hinder operations. The federal government has already pulled the rug out from under the slaughterhouses once. There’s no telling whether they’ll do it again.

·       The ever-presence of the shrill, combative, mostly female anti-slaughter advocates who will stop at nothing to turn public opinion against the slaughterhouses, no matter where they decide to set up shop. If you do not believe these women exist, I urge you to do a Google search for “horse slaughter”, or check out some of the comments to this previous post.  While the presence of these "hecklers" is really nothing more than an annoyance, the unwitting or naive in local communities sometimes give in to them---if for no other reason than to shut them up.

Conclusion

If the European Union no longer wants our horsemeat, and the Asian or South American demand is not enough to sustain the industry, the free market economy will bring an end to horse slaughter. The anti-slaughter advocates agree—indeed, this is the only real economic issue they have latched onto. But if this is something that will go away on its own, why do we need a ban? Your guess is as good as mine. I would think that given the amount of money and time the anti-slaughter camp has spent to bring about anti-slaughter legislation, they can’t stop now. It would be unthinkable to them that they threw away millions trying to force their will upon us, instead of using their time and money to save the adoptable horses that either died of neglect or were inhumanely butchered in Mexico as a result of their efforts.

It is a myth that horse suffering has decreased now that slaughter is no longer an option. I applaud organizations such as the self-sustaining equine sanctuaries and rescues, veterinary associations, and the Unwanted Horse Coalition for doing what they can to reduce the amount of unwanted horses. If we want to improve horse welfare, we should be spending our time and money helping these organizations help horses—not on political agendas. 

And if we must regulate the industry, let’s keep regulating horse transportation and institute methods of humane slaughter such as those proposed by Temple Grandin for the cattle industry. But we can only control how horses are treated as long as we allow them to be slaughtered within our borders.

Jane Smiley, contributor to the New York Times Horse Racing Blog, may have put it best when she said:  

We must recognize that there is a market for horse meat (not only for human consumption, but also for zoo and circus-animal consumption) and that in a starving world, a source of protein should not go to waste for sentimental reasons. It is sentimentality that has resulted in profounder cruelty to our horses - because we don’t accept that they are animals and have a utilitarian purpose, we hide from what happens to them, and so what happens to them happens in secret.

Related Posts

Current Status of Federal Laws Affecting Horse Slaughter

Legal Background of Horse Slaughter in Texas

Could the U.S. Supreme Court Unwittingly Decide the Fate of Horse Slaughter?

Next Wednesday (November 9, 2011) the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on a case where the main issue is States’ rights to impose their own regulations on federally-inspected slaughterhouses. The case is National Meat Association v. Harris (Docket No. 10-244). Though the case involves swine instead of horses, the Court’s decision might ultimately affect the horse slaughter debate currently being waged in Congress.

The issue before the Court is whether a state law in California requiring all slaughterhouses to “immediately euthanize” any nonambulatory animal on its premises is preempted by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). The National Meat case deals with a California law governing slaughterhouses in that state that was passed in 2008, after the Humane Society of the United States released a video of so-called “downer cows” being pushed with a forklift, kicked, electrocuted, and dragged with chains at a slaughterhouse.

If the Court ultimately finds that California (and, presumably, all other states) can impose its own regulations on slaughterhouses to which the FMIA applies within their respective states, this might ultimately affect the current battle over horse slaughter being waged in the United States. An interesting question raised by this case, in my mind, is this:

What if one or more states were to enact laws that made illegal the so-called 'evils' of slaughter that opponents of horse processing find so unsavory? Would the opponents of horse slaughter be opposed to the humane processing of horses in those states?"

It’s an interesting question, and I’m torn. While I generally don’t like to see new red tape and new regulations unduly imposed on any industry, I tend to think that most issues such as this are best dealt with on the state level. If the Supreme Court finds that states can, in fact, impose their own laws on federally-inspected slaughterhouses, I am somewhat encouraged that this might ultimately provide vehicle whereby a “win-win” resolution of the horse slaughter battle may be reached.  If humane horse slaughter can be reintroduced in the United States, many horse industry groups believe that that this would have a positive economic impact on the overall horse industry.

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