The agency said it was forced to act under the law when the company, Responsible Transportation of Sigourney, Iowa, met all the requirements to be inspected. A facility near Roswell, New Mexico, was granted approval on June 28, clearing the way for the first slaughtering of horses for meat in the U.S. since 2007.
Separately, a group of animal-welfare advocates has sued the USDA seeking to keep the plants from opening.
Unless Congress renews a ban that expired in 2011, the USDA is required to issue a grant of inspection and provide inspectors that would enable the facilities to operate, agency spokeswoman Michelle Saghafi said in an e-mail.
The Obama administration “has requested Congress to reinstate the ban on horse slaughter,” she said. “Until Congress acts, the Department must continue to comply with current law.”
Horse slaughter is an emotional issue among animal-welfare advocates in the U.S., where eating of horse meat is rare and surveys show most Americans oppose the practice. Many farmers and ranchers say humane slaughter is necessary to dispose of unwanted animals.
The last U.S. horse-meat plant closed six years ago after Congress banned funding for inspections for such facilities. That ban lapsed in 2011 and measures to renew it are before lawmakers.
Responsible Transportation didn’t reply to an e-mail seeking comment. On its website, the company says its mission “is to improve the quality of life of the unwanted horse population,” by following professionally supervised, government-regulated euthanasia processes and allowing horses not to be transported outside the U.S. for slaughter.
“We believe it is our responsibility to restore the value of the horse industry. In doing so, the quality of life for the entire population of horses within the United States will improve,” the company said.
The animal-welfare groups, which include the Humane Society of the United States, filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.
“Horse slaughter plants pollute local water bodies with blood and offal, permeate the air with a foul stench, diminish property values and put horses through misery,” Jonathan Lovvorn, chief counsel for aminal protection litigation at the Washington-based Humane Society, said in a statement.
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