Ban on horse meat could go by way­side

Re­cent leg­isla­tive gains by in­dus­try have crit­ics wor­ried

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - By CAR­O­LINE KELLY Wash­ing­ton Bureau ck­elly@dal­las­

WASH­ING­TON — An­i­mal ad­vo­cates are keep­ing close watch on Congress amid con­cern that a mora­to­rium on horse meat pro­duc­tion may be in jeop­ardy.

Congress shut down the in­dus­try nearly a decade ago by cut­ting off funds for USDA meat in­spec­tors. But in July, a key House com­mit­tee ap­proved an an­nual farm spend­ing bill that would lift the ban.

The full House then rat­i­fied that shift in pol­icy, for the first time in two years — open­ing the door to re­vival of an in­dus­try that many

Amer­i­cans find re­pug­nant, but which some horse own­ers view as a prac­ti­cal way to dis­pose of un­wanted live­stock.

Horse meat is con­sumed in a num­ber of coun­tries, in­clud­ing Mex­ico, Ja­pan, France and Bel­gium. Two of the three U.S. slaugh­ter­houses serv­ing the ex­port mar­ket be­fore the 2006 ban were in North Texas, in Kauf­man and Fort Worth.

Foes of the in­dus­try — a loose coali­tion of an­i­mal ad­vo­cates and oth­ers — are op­ti­mistic that the Se­nate will ex­tend the horse meat ban in its ver­sion of the an­nual agri­cul­ture ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill. But many worry that sup­port for the ban is erod­ing, and that con­gres­sional lead­ers will give up the fight in the crush of year-end bud­get­ing. The ban on horse slaugh­ter for meat pro­duc­tion was among the last is­sues ne­go­ti­ated in last year’s catch-all spend­ing pack­age.

Be­fore he was House speaker, Paul Ryan voted against a horse slaugh­ter ban in 2006 be­fore Congress de­funded in­spec­tors. Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell cospon­sored a 2014 bill al­low­ing for con­tro­ver­sial horse train­ing prac­tices, so groups that op­pose an­i­mal cru­elty worry about his views, though he has op­posed horse slaugh­ter in the past. Democrats’ mi­nor­ity lead­ers in the Se­nate and House, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, have con­sis­tently backed the ban.

“They get in­flu­enced by com­mit­tee chairs; they’re jock­ey­ing to trade things,” said Wayne Pa­celle, CEO of the Hu­mane So­ci­ety of the United States. “They can be with you on some­thing, but they care about some­thing else so they’re will­ing to get rid of that.”

Rep. Vern Buchanan, RFla., has been push­ing leg­is­la­tion for years called the Safe­guard Amer­i­can Food Ex­ports (SAFE) Act that would per­ma­nently ban the killing of horses for hu­man con­sump­tion, and block ex­port to for­eign slaugh­ter­houses.

The bill has 172 sup­port­ers, but back­ers have been un­able to get a hear­ing, even as the House took steps to elim­i­nate the ban.

What changed?

Sup­port­ers of do­mes­tic horse meat pro­duc­tion have been prod­ding Congress for years to lift the ban, with limited suc­cess.

Congress has banned fed­eral out­lays on horse meat in- spec­tors since 2006, ef­fec­tively shut­ting down the in­dus­try

In 2011, Congress dropped the ban from its an­nual U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture bud­get. Ban op­po­nents cited a Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice re­port that year that found that 138,000 horses were shipped to plants in Mex­ico and Canada — about the same num­ber as were slaugh­tered at U.S. plants be­fore the ban.

An­i­mal rights groups fought suc­cess­fully in court in 2013 to block slaugh­ter­houses from re­open­ing. Congress re­in­stated the in­spec­tor ban in 2014.

Five Texas Democrats sup­port the SAFE Act and a per­ma­nent ban on the horse meat in­dus­try, but the del­e­ga­tion is di­vided.

In 2015, Rep. Pete Ses­sions of Dal­las was among 13 Repub­li­cans who urged House lead­ers to le­gal­ize slaugh­ter in bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Se­nate. The other side pre­vailed, and the ban has re­mained in place.

Lat­est turns

The pro-slaugh­ter forces made an­other break­through in June, when the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee shot down a ban on horse meat in­spec­tors in a 27-25 vote. Two slaugh­ter op­po­nents had left since the last big fight, and three pro-slaugh­ter law­mak­ers had joined the com­mit­tee.

All four Tex­ans on the panel — Repub­li­cans John Carter of Round Rock, Kay Granger of Fort Worth, and John Cul­ber­son of Hous­ton, and Demo­crat Henry Cuel­lar of Laredo — sided with the pro-slaugh­ter forces.

None of the four re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment on the vote.

Much of the ma­neu­ver­ing has taken place in com­mit­tees. In early Septem­ber, the Rules Com­mit­tee, chaired by Ses­sions, struck down a sec­ond at­tempt to ban horse meat in­spec­tors. That was the last chance for the ban on the House side, and a crit­i­cal set­back.

“To use tax dol­lars to put them through this cru­elty is not ap­pro­pri­ate,” said Nancy Perry, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions for the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals. “We don’t think that our horses should suf­fer.”

In Texas

Be­fore the in­spec­tor ban, there were three slaugh­ter­houses in the United States that pro­cessed horse meat: the two in Texas and one in Illi­nois.

In Texas, neigh­bors com­plained about blood and bones in the area. In 2002, the year he was elected to the Se­nate, then-Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral John Cornyn is­sued an opin­ion find­ing that a 1949 state law ban­ning the sale of horse meat in Texas ap­plied to plants that process the meat only for ex­port. Cornyn’s opin­ion also as­serted that state law could be en­forced even if fed­eral law al­lowed for meat pro­duc­tion.

But the plants didn’t close un­til 2007, when the 5th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals agreed that fed­eral law doesn’t pre-empt the Texas ban. By then, Congress had also banned horse meat in­spec­tion.

Former West Texas con­gress­man Charles Sten­holm lob­bied for the Live­stock Mar­ket­ing As­so­ci­a­tion in sup­port of horse slaugh­ter for meat un­til 2013.

“They gave up,” Sten­holm said of the group. “We weren’t able to get Congress to change.”

Even with signs that Congress is back­ing away from the ban, Sten­holm doesn’t ex­pect the do­mes­tic slaugh­ter in­dus­try to re­turn any­time soon.

But the ar­gu­ments he used for years still stand, he said. There is a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem with un­wanted horses.

Own­ers can get up to $700 for sell­ing an an­i­mal to a slaugh­ter­house across the bor­der. With­out that op­tion, dis­pos­ing of a carcass by land­fill can cost sev­eral hun­dred dol­lars. Cre­ma­tion costs up to $1,000.

Ad­vo­cates of horse slaugh­ter say the op­tion cuts en­vi­ron­men­tal con­tam­i­na­tion from land­fill dis­posal and en­sures hu­mane treat­ment of aging and un­wanted an­i­mals.

Horse lovers counter that no form of slaugh­ter can be hu­mane for com­pan­ion an­i­mals. A 2012 poll from the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals found that 80 per­cent of those sur­veyed did not sup­port slaugh­ter­ing horses for meat.

Then there’s the is­sue of wild horses. Mus­tangs on fed­eral and pri­vate lands, mostly in the Amer­i­can West, cost tax­pay­ers $50 mil­lion a year.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s pro­posed bud­get would raise $10 mil­lion by lift­ing a ban on the sale of wild mus­tangs. Horse ad­vo­cates take it as a dis­turb­ing sign. If Trump is open to ex­port­ing sym­bols of the Wild West to sat­isfy culi­nary crav­ings in Bel­gium or France, he’s prob­a­bly open to re­sump­tion of do­mes­tic horse meat pro­duc­tion.

“Obama was strongly anti-slaugh­ter, and we al­ways had the ad­min­is­tra­tion lob­by­ing for our po­si­tion,” Pa­celle said. “I felt more com­fort­able with the White House be­ing strongly op­posed to horse slaugh­ter.”

Hi­lary Swift/The New York Times

Wild horses, such as these near Bartlesville, Okla., cost tax­pay­ers $50 mil­lion a year. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s pro­posed bud­get would raise $10 mil­lion by lift­ing a ban on the sale of wild mus­tangs.

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