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House votes to end slaughter of horses for food

Staff and Wire Reports

WASHINGTON - The House voted Wednesday on legislation that would reportedly stop the slaughter of American horses to feed diners in European and Asian nations where the meat is considered gourmet fare.

The 269-158 vote on an amendment to a Department of Agriculture spending bill strips funding from the USDA to inspect any horse meat to be shipped overseas for consumption, effectively barring the sale of horse meat for human consumption, according to the Associated Press.

Roughly 65,000 wild horses, race horses, work horses and even pet horses are slaughtered every year in the United States to become steaks in other countries. Two plants in Texas and one in DeKalb slaughter horses for foreign consumption.

Jim Tucker, manager of DeKalb's Cavel International Inc. at 108 Harvestore Drive., refuted the Associated Press claim that, if enacted into law, this amendment would shut down horse slaughterhouses.

Instead, the amendment would stop the federal government from funding horse meat inspections, but slaughtering plants could pay for inspections themselves, he said.

"This would have an effect, but it wouldn't shut us down," Tucker said. The plant currently pays for some steps in the inspection process that are required by the European Union but not the United States for consumption of the meat.

Brad Hahn, press secretary for Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Plano, said lawyers will have to interpret the amendment, which isn't clear on whether the plants can pay for the inspections themselves.

"We're hopeful it never reaches that point," Hahn said, adding that Hastert is worried about the impact this amendment could have on a profitable business in his district. The legislation still has to receive Senate support and go through several more steps before becoming law, Hahn said.

The amendment was pushed by Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., whose district includes the historic Saratoga race track, and Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., a thoroughbred owner.

"This breaks a bunch of barriers that have been put in our way over the past two years and takes us a big step closer to getting this enacted into law," Sweeney said. "It is unconscionable that for decades, we have been using federal taxpayer dollars to support a practice that the American public is overwhelmingly opposed to."

Sweeney and Whitfield unsuccessfully tried in years past to get a similar ban passed, even enlisting the help of Bo Derek and other celebrity horse lovers.

Those efforts were blocked by House Agriculture Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who had not let the issue out of committee, saying a ban on horse slaughter for foreign consumption could lead to abuse of unwanted animals.

This time Sweeney got a vote on an amendment to a spending bill and won the support of a majority of the chamber.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., a veterinarian, is set to push a similar ban in the Senate.

"This is not very well-thought out," Tucker said. He said the House should have considered the people who work in the industry that will lose money because of having to pay for inspections. Cavel employs 40 people, he said, and thousands of horse owners have gained money from the slaughterhouse.

He said public health could suffer if the government begins to "chip away" at the foods it inspects, and the government also will hurt a viable foreign trade market by making slaughterhouse operations more expensive.

The issue of slaughtering horses came under renewed scrutiny in April after 41 wild horses were killed at Cavel, under a new law allowing the government to sell horses and burros roaming free on public lands in western states.

The House voted in May to stop the Bureau of Land Management from using any money to sell horses on those lands, restoring what had been a 33-year-old policy of protecting wild horses from sale or processing.

Staff Writer Renee Messacar contributed to this report.

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