Congressman Jim Moran, Northern Virginia Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, today sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack calling on the USDA to deny permit applications for horse slaughter facilities, citing concerns with the cost and safety of the practice. Moran's letter follows a New York Times report that the USDA may approve horse slaughter facilities in the near future.
"Horses are not raised as food animals and are routinely given substances that are banned by the FDA from administration to animals destined for human consumption," Moran wrote. "At a time when USDA's budget is diminished by budget cuts and sequestration every dollar spent at horse slaughter plants would divert necessary resources away from beef, chicken, and pork inspections - meat actually consumed by Americans."
The five-year ban on horse slaughter for human consumption ended in 2011 when the final House-Senate appropriations conference agreement removed Rep. Moran's amendment that barred funding for USDA inspections of horse meat. In the letter, Moran praised the USDA's support for legislative efforts to prevent horse slaughter and asked the USDA to include similar language in the agency's Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal.
Moran continued: "While I work to restore this ban, I strongly urge you to exercise all available options to prevent the resumption of this industry."
Moran's letter also highlighted the negative economic impact horse slaughter could have on the entire U.S. meat industry. Earlier this year, the European Union discovered horse meat had made its way into the EU's beef supply. In the month following media reports of horse meat-laced products, sales of frozen burgers in the U.K. collapsed by 43 percent.
"When asked if such a disaster could occur in our country, USDA representatives expressed confidence in the American food supply by emphasizing that there is no horse slaughter industry here to pose a food safety risk," Moran wrote. "That reassurance that will no longer be available if horse slaughter is allowed to return."
Full text of the letter below:
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
I write to express my concern that the slaughter of horses for human consumption may soon resume on American soil. According to a February 28th New York Times article, the USDA is moving forward with processing Valley Meat Company's application for horse slaughter inspections. I also understand that four other facilities have filed applications for horse slaughter inspections. USDA has verified that, in less than two months, a grant of inspection could be issued, and the slaughtering of horses could resume in the U.S.
Widespread public opposition to horse slaughter led to the closure of the last U.S. horse slaughter plants in 2007. A prohibition on the use of taxpayer dollars for horse slaughter inspections was included in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 Agriculture Appropriations bill and routinely included each year until 2011, when the language was excluded from the FY 2012 appropriations bill. The language was incorporated into the FY 2013 Agriculture Appropriations bill after I offered it as an amendment in committee, but unfortunately that bill was never enacted. With the funding prohibition lifted, Americans -- 80 percent of whom polls show are opposed to the slaughter of horses for human consumption -- may soon see their taxpayer dollars spent to finance horse slaughter.
At a time when USDA's budget is diminished by budget cuts and sequestration, it would be irresponsible to divert millions of dollars a year to inspect horsemeat consumed entirely by foreign consumers. Every dollar spent at horse slaughter plants would divert necessary resources away from beef, chicken, and pork inspections - meat actually consumed by Americans. In addition, horses are not raised as food animals and are routinely given substances that are banned by the FDA from administration to animals destined for human consumption. Contrary to the claims of slaughter proponents, these horses are not old and unwanted, with USDA statistics showing that 92 percent of all horses sent to slaughter are in good condition.
Recent events in Europe demonstrate the threat the horse slaughter industry could pose to the U.S. meat industry. This year's scandal over horse meat mislabeling and toxicity has shaken consumer confidence in the safety of all meat on the European market. In the month following media reports of horse meat-laced products, sales of frozen burgers in the U.K. collapsed by 43 percent, sales of frozen-meat dishes in France fell by 30 percent, and sales of ready-made pasta dishes, frozen foods and meat sauces in Italy dropped by 30 percent. When asked if such a disaster could occur in our country, USDA representatives expressed confidence in the American food supply by emphasizing that there is no horse slaughter industry here to pose a food safety risk. That reassurance that will no longer be available if horse slaughter is allowed to return.
I am encouraged by USDA's statement of support for appropriations language to prohibit taxpayer dollars for horse slaughter inspections. I also appreciate your support for a "third way" solution for unwanted horses rather than slaughtering them for human consumption. In acknowledgement of these positions, I urge you to include language prohibiting funding for horse slaughter inspections in your FY 2014 budget submission to Congress similar to the amendment that I offered the past two years.
I believe that you, consistent with your regulatory authority, should deny Valley Meat's permit for horse slaughter inspections so further consideration can be given to the important responsibility of monitoring equine drug residues. To this end, I ask that USDA provide an official response to the petition for rulemaking to label horse meat as adulterated prior to issuing a grant of inspection.
Finally, I request that you provide me with an estimate of the total expenditures required to reinstate a USDA horse slaughter inspection program. This calculation should include inspector training, creation of a testing regimen, continuous updates to that testing regimen as new drugs are discovered, creation of a traceability program, and plans for the testing of meat from each slaughtered horse. This last item is critical because, unlike other types of livestock that are raised in lots with similar medical regimens, each horse has a unique medical history. Sampling, therefore, will not be considered an accurate representation of all horse meat.
It is regrettable that Congress allowed the prohibition on federal funding for horse slaughter inspections to lapse. While I work to restore this ban, I strongly urge you to exercise all available options to prevent the resumption of this industry. I also stand ready and willing to work with you in developing a responsible plan for handling unwanted horses.
Thank you for your consideration of this request, and I look forward to your response.