The commercial slaughter of horses in the U.S. can resume while opponents appeal a judge’s ruling that the Agriculture Department correctly allowed federal meat inspections at the plants without an environmental review.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver yesterday lifted a Nov. 4 temporary ban on food-safety inspections at the slaughterhouses and denied a request by opponents of horse slaughter, including environmental groups and the state of New Mexico, to keep the stay in place while they pursue their appeal.
The opponents hadn’t shown they were likely to succeed in the appeal and hadn’t presented “non-speculative” evidence that they or the environment would suffer irreparable harm from limited horse slaughtering operations, the appellate court said.
“On the other hand, the slaughterhouses have shown that they face a likelihood of cognizable harm” because barring inspections during the appeal would prevent them from running lawful businesses, the court said.
Horse meat is consumed in countries including France, China, Mexico and Russia.
From 2006 to 2011, Congress halted funding for horse slaughter plant inspections, which are required to sell the meat. The U.S. slaughtered 94,037 animals in 2005, the last full year before funding dried up.
Without a U.S. plant, horses have gone to Mexico or Canada for slaughter, enduring thousands of miles in trucks and on trains criticized both by animal-welfare groups as cruel and by agricultural organizations as an argument for a domestic industry. Exports of live horses last year to other North American countries were 197,442, more than double the number in 2007 and more than six times what it was a decade ago.
The prohibition on funding for inspections wasn’t extended for 2012 and 2013, thereby allowing commercial horse slaughter to resume legally. The USDA has received application for horse slaughtering inspection in five states, according to court filings.
“We are very disappointed in the court’s ruling, but are undeterred and will continue to try to stop the dangers of horse slaughter from causing devastating harm to American communities, environments and horses,” Bruce Wagman, a lawyer representing the opponents of commercial horse slaughter, said in an e-mail.
The case is Front Range Equine Rescue v. Vilsack, 13-2187, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit (Denver).