Horse slaughtering resumes in US as legislation languishes in Congress

By Fox News Network

They are victims of a bad economy or sometimes, abusive owners: 70 horses confiscated from mid-Atlantic farms because of neglect. Many are emaciated and near death before their rehabilitation at a Maryland rescue farm.

But their fates are far better than the hundreds of thousands of horses slaughtered in the United States, for human consumption abroad. Under pressure from animal rights groups and many horse owners, the domestic slaughter industry was effectively ended in the U.S. in 2007, when Congress stopped funding for Department of Agriculture inspections of horse slaughter houses since uninspected meat cannot be sold. But it turned out to be a law of unintended consequences.

"When slaughter of horses was ended in the United States, what that meant for horses was not an end to slaughter," Kathy Guillermo with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said .

"What that meant was that they were crammed into small trucks, that they were slipping and sliding in their own waste, crammed together with horses they didn't know, biting and kicking and trucked a thousand miles or more to another country where they met the exact same fate."

So last November, President Obama quietly signed into law a USDA spending bill that restores the inspection process for domestic horse slaughter; a stopgap measure that opens the door for U.S. slaughter of horses again. It is a move many animal rights activists reluctantly support.

"The fact that it's at least closer to where horses are, rather than have them travel all these great distances, is at least a step in the right direction," Kathleen Howe, the director of Days End Farm Horse Rescue, a group that rehabilitates abused horses, said.

While Howe doesn't support the slaughter of horses, she says until legislation passes to end the practice altogether, a federally regulated system is better than shipping horses to unregulated countries.

"Personally I would prefer there were no slaughterhouses, and that nobody took bad care of their horses," Howe said.

After an onslaught of inquiries from horse owners concerned about the resumption of horse slaughtering in the U.S., the USDA responded.

"[A] number of Federal, state and local requirements and prohibitions remain in place," the agency said in a statement. "Furthermore, there have been no requests that the Department initiate the authorization process for any horse slaughter operation in the United States at this time." 

What is needed, many agree is broader legislation.

"The solution is to pass the American horse slaughter prevention act, bipartisan legislation in Congress, to stop horse slaughter, not only in the U.S., but stop the exports of live American horses to Canada and Mexico," Michael Markarian with the Humane Society of the United States, said.

That legislation, which enjoys bipartisan support has been bottled up in committee - while a divided Congress wrestles over more pressing issues. But complicating its passage is the fact that slaughtering horses for meat puts money into the pockets of horse owners who choose to do so. Humanely euthanizing and disposing of a horse, can cost an owner $600 or more.

Fox News Producer Wes Barrett contributed to this report.

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