Amidst the high emotions of those decrying or celebrating the new USDA appropriations which no longer disallow inspections of horse meat intended for human consumption, it occurs to me that there is one important bright spot — the resumption of funding and authority to inspect horses in transport to slaughter.
The funding of USDA horse meat inspections does nothing to change the number of horses being sent to slaughter (roughly 130,000 US horses are transported to Canada or Mexico for slaughter each year), nor does it answer the questions surrounding whether current equine slaughter methods are humane, and it does not address the issue of whether the meat of US horses, most which are not raised for human consumption is safe. It does open the door for slaughter to resume domestically, rather than force all horses bound for slaughter to be trucked to Canada or Mexico.
But there’s another important aspect of the resumption of USDA horse slaughter inspection funding that isn’t getting much attention: it reverses a glaring, unintended consequence of the USDA de-funding of the past five years: inspection and enforcement of humane transport regulations. Many people were unaware that one result of de-funding was that USDA no longer had either the staff or the authority to inspect horses on transport vehicles bound for slaughter in Canada or Mexico. APHIS (USDA Amimal and Plant Health Inspection Service) has regulations in place to protect horses on transport to slaughter (see below). However, when domestic USDA inspections were de-funded in 2006, the USDA’s ability to inspect the horses on slaughter transports and enforce humane transport regulations was removed. Now that funding has been restored, hopefully USDA will soon have more than one inspector devoted to inspecting slaughter transports crossing the border, and the inspectors will be verifying that humane transport regulations are being followed.
Is the system perfect? No. However, following the GAO report in June, the USDA moved quickly to finalize new language in September, 2011 expanding the definition of equines bound for slaughter to include “Any member of the Equidae family being transferred to a slaughter facility, including an assembly point (any facility, including auction markets, ranches, feedlots, and stockyards, in which equines are gathered in commerce), feedlot, or stockyard.” Previously, the regulations pertained only to horses being transported directly to slaughter. Hence, prior to the regulation change, paperwork indicating a horse is bound for slaughter, triggering the inspection process, only got created on the last leg of a very long journey.
New regulations for humane transport, and funding to enforce them. Baby steps…