The United States Department of Agriculture is likely to approve a horse slaughtering plant in New Mexico in the next two months, which would allow equine meat suitable for human consumption to be produced in the United States for the first time since 2007.
The plant, in Roswell, N.M., is owned by Valley Meat Company, which sued the U.S.D.A. and its Food Safety and Inspection Service last fall over the lack of inspection services for horses going to slaughter. Horse meat cannot be processed for human consumption in the United States without inspection by the U.S.D.A., so horses destined for that purpose have been shipped to places like Mexico and Canada for slaughter.
Justin DeJong, a spokesman for the agriculture department, said that “several” companies had asked the agency to re-establish inspection of horses for slaughter. “These companies must still complete necessary technical requirements and the F.S.I.S. must complete its inspector training,” he wrote in an e-mail referring to the food inspection service.
He said the Obama administration was urging Congress to reinstate an effective ban on the production of horse meat for human consumption that lapsed in 2011.
The impending approval comes amid growing concern among American consumers that horse meat will somehow make its way into ground beef products in the United States as it has done in Europe. Major companies, including Tesco, Nestlé and Ikea, have had to pull food from shelves in 14 countries after tests showed that products labeled 100 percent beef actually contained small amounts of horse meat. Horse meat is not necessarily unsafe, and in some countries, it is popular. But some opponents of horse slaughtering say consumption of horse meat is ill-advised because of the use of various kinds of drugs in horses.
“We now have the very real prospect of a horse slaughtering plant operating in the U.S. for the first time in six years,” said Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States. The last plant that slaughtered horse meat for human consumption in the United States closed in 2007, after Congressional approval of an appropriations bill that included a rider forbidding the U.S.D.A. from financing the inspection of such meat. That rider was renewed in subsequent appropriations bills until 2011, when Congress quietly removed it from an omnibus spending act.
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