USDA skirts horse meat ban

Sweeney calls Agriculture Department’s action a ‘defiance’ of Congress

HILLSDALE (24 Jan 2006) — Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-20th) joined 39 colleagues in the U.S. House and Senate in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, January 17, to remind him that a bi-partisan majority of both parties in both the House and the Senate passed legislation in November to halt the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

Rep. John Sweeney (R-20-NY) Mr. Sweeney and others say the Department of Agriculture has found a way to circumvent the ban, flouting the will of Congress.

On November 11, 2005, President Bush signed H.R. 2744 into law after the House of Representatives approved the measure 269-158 and the Senate 69-28. A section of the legislation was intended by the House and the Senate to remove funding for horse slaughter under the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

According to Mr. Sweeney, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) informed Congress that overseas owners of the three American slaughterhouses –two Belgian-owned plants and one French-owned plant — have quietly petitioned the agency to approve a “fee-for-service” private inspection system that would allow the companies to continue shipping horse flesh abroad for the market in Europe, mostly Belgium, France and Japan.

Horse meat is considered a delicacy in these countries. And the consumption of horse meat there has also increased because the threat of mad cow disease has reduced the enthusiasm for beef.

The USDA further announced that it is considering writing emergency rules to provide fee-for-service inspections. The fee-for-service inspection system is used for export of “certain exotic animals,” like elk, reindeer and even rabbits. The USDA inspectors would not be paid by the government to inspect the horses. Instead the bill for inspection services would be paid by private sources — the slaughterhouses.

Mr. Sweeney characterizes the use of the fee-for-service system in regard to horses as “a complex regulatory maneuver to willfully circumvent legislation that was passed by an overwhelming majority in both the House and the Senate.”

Melissa Carlson, media representative for Mr. Sweeney, told The Independent newspaper Monday that this was exactly the sort of trick the Congressman feared the owners of the slaughterhouses might try to head off the legislation. But Steve Cohen, spokesman for the Food Safety Inspection Service of the USDA, said that the amendment covered only one aspect of an inspectors’ obligation under the law.

“The amendment did not remove horses from the list of animals covered under the Federal Meat Inspection Act,” he said.

But correspondence from counsel for the USDA James Michael Kelly informed the Congress that the amendment “does not prevent horse slaughter at all.” The department then cites a passage in a conference report that accompanied the amendment that USDA interprets to mean that the inspectors could be paid, but not with federal money.

Mr. Cohen told The Independent Monday that the wording of the amendment covered only one of the three duties performed by FSIS inspectors. According to Mr. Cohen, the Meat Inspection Act created in 1906 directs inspectors to: check animals listed in the law, which includes horses, before the animals are killed; inspect the carcasses and vital organs, and then to examine the meat to be sure it is safe and wholesome.

“The amendment only covers the inspection of the live animal,” says Mr. Cohen. “Under the law, our inspectors must still examine the carcass and the resulting meat.” Mr. Sweeney does not buy that approach. He calls the proposed “fee for service” arrangement “direct defiance of Congressional intent.”

The petition is also a direct violation of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which mandates that any flesh bound for human consumption must be inspected by USDA employees before and after the animal is killed. The slaughterhouses have asked that the USDA implement this change without notifying the public or following normal rule making procedures, claiming that it is in the “public’s interest” to keep this maneuver secret.

The three slaughterhouses, one in Fort Worth and another in Kaufman, Texas, as well as one in DeKalb, Illinois, process horse meat largely for human consumption abroad.

Owners of those plants say ending the inspections will shut them down, eliminating up to 222 jobs and causing a $41 million dollar economic loss annually in those communities.

The USDA has made not decision as yet on the matter. Federal funding for the inspections runs out March 10.


The economic loss the foreign owners of these slaughter plants is their own. -Ed.

Source: Int’l Fund for Horses Archives

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