I thought my piece last week, Congress Effectively Kills Horse Slaughter, was going to be my last word on horse slaughter for the foreseeable future. But, we live in strange times. Today, USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service issued a grant of inspection to allow New Mexico's Valley Meat Co. to proceed with its plans to slaughter horses for human consumption. Furthermore, FSIS announced it intends to grant approval to plants in Missouri and Iowa next week. This is certainly a victory for Valley Meat and the rule of law, but the victory may be short-lived.
Horse slaughter for human consumption is legal under the Federal Meat Inspection Act. However, another requirement of the Act is that all slaughter plants must be overseen by FSIS inspectors. These FSIS inspectors are paid for with federal funds. HSUS has failed to convince Congress to ban horse slaughter outright. However, it has succeeded in achieving a de facto ban on the practice. From 2006 to 2011, the annual agricultural appropriations legislation contained a ban on funding FSIS inspectors, which made it impossible for horse slaughter plants to operate.
This ban was not included in the FY2012 or FY2013 ag approprations bills. As such, there have been no legal impediments prohibiting horse slaughter since October 1, 2011. However, the few plants that have applied for approval to commence horse slaughter since the ban was lifted have faced all the bureaucratic barriers USDA has at its disposal. USDA has successfully slow-walked the process for over a year.
The grant of inspection means that Valley Meat can begin hiring employees and FSIS can begin putting inspectors in place. However, the grant of inspection means we can also expect to see HSUS begin to take legal actions. HSUS has already made its intentions known that it will file a tongue-in-cheek environmental suit to halt or delay the Valley Meat venture.
It should be noted that all of this is unfolding with the backdrop of the FY2014 ag appropriations process. The House and Senate appropriations committees have approved ag spending bills that would eliminate funding for FSIS inspectors at horse slaughter facilities. If these provisions survive votes on the House and Senate floor and the conferencing process, then the de facto ban on horse slaughter will be reinstated on October 1, 2013. However, the 113th Congress is certainly earning its nickname, "The Congress to Nowhere", so anything can happen.
I will follow up if there are updates.
John Dillard is an attorney with Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz P.C. (OFW Law), a Washington, DC-based firm that serves agricultural clients and clients with issues before federal and state courts, EPA, FDA, USDA, and OSHA. John focuses his practice on agricultural and environmental law. He occasionally tweets at @DCAgLawyer.