BILLINGSGAZETTE.COM — State Rep. Sue Wallis says the Obama administration's proposal in its 2014 budget that would effectively ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption is "a pretty sorry situation."
The Republican legislator and rancher from Recluse, in northeast Wyoming, leads the International Equine Business Association and has promoted and proposed operating horse slaughter plants in Wyoming and Missouri. She doesn't think Congress will follow the budget recommendation of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to ban such slaughter.
"The word that we hear is that directive was coming straight out of the White House, which is the only explanation for the Department of Agriculture to be doing something as anti-agriculture as that," Wallis said Thursday.
A similar spending ban on horse slaughter plant inspections was established in 2005. It effectively closed horse slaughter operations in the United States until Congress didn't renew the ban in 2011. Since then, there have been private efforts to reopen horse slaughterhouses.
"The fact is there is no basis for them to single out one species out of all the species that we eat in this country -- to pick out one and destroy the industry," Wallis said. "It just boggles my mind."
Wallis said the entire agriculture industry is "adamantly opposed" to the ban.
Horse slaughter plants are ready to open in New Mexico and Missouri, and one is coming along in Iowa.
"They have customers both domestic and international waiting for this product," Wallis said.
Organizations that advocate for the humane treatment of animals oppose the slaughter of American horses for human consumption because they believe the practice is inherently cruel to the animals. These groups also claim that horse meat poses a potential human health risk, as horses are not raised for food in the U.S. and are consequently treated with a wide range of drugs not approved for use in animals intended for human consumption.
Patricia Fazio, of Cody, works with humane organizations. She said it is possible that a member of Congress will remove the language banning money for inspections from the Department of Agriculture budget. Fazio, who holds a degree in animal science and biology, said she is not an animal activist.
"But the fact that the secretary of agriculture has gotten involved shows he supports the removal of funding," Fazio said Friday. Fazio said she doesn't know Vilsack's motive, but there have been many studies that show the meat of domestic animals is contaminated by such veterinary medications as "horse aspirin."
Europe, she said, will no longer accept horse meat that may be contaminated as a result of "Burger-gate" -- the revelation that some beef on the market there contained horse meat.
"It doesn't look good for the pro-slaughter people who are trying to make a dollar," Fazio said.
The Valley Meat Co. of Roswell, N.M., late last year filed a lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture because of delays in opening its horse slaughter plant.
Wallis' International Equine Business Association intervened in the lawsuit, which is on hold until the end of this month.
Before a plant can open it must pass inspection by a representative from the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service.
The attorney for Valley Meat Co. is A. Blair Dunn. He said the Department of Justice gave the USDA until April 29 to have an inspector at the proposed Roswell plant.
"We're going to press on as if USDA is going to do what Congress has already told them to do," Dunn said. "Our plan is to continue to proceed to open."