Fight continues on horse slaughter
01/11/2006
By SUZANNE GAMBOA / Associated Press
The Bush administration may inspect horse meat on a fee-for-service 
basis,
continuing the slaughter of horses for human consumption, despite votes 
in
Congress last year to try to stop it.
The Agriculture Department, responding to petitions from European 
operators
of three horse slaughterhouses, told Congress it is considering writing
emergency rules to provide the fee-for-service inspections.
That has angered some lawmakers who say the department is circumventing
Congress' will.
The House voted 269-158 and the Senate 69-28 last year to cut off 
spending
on the salaries and expenses of USDA horse meat inspectors  which the
measure's sponsors say was intended to stop the slaughter of horses. 
Several
lawmakers who sponsored the measure are urging USDA to deny the plants'
petition or at least allow time for a public comment period.
"It was the clear intent of Congress and the only thing discussed on 
the
House and Senate floor was the fact that we wanted to stop slaughter," 
said
Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., one of the sponsors of the measure cutting 
off
funding. "Congress was very clear in its intent, and the Department of
Agriculture has circumvented that intent."
A USDA spokesman, asked for comment, referred to a letter sent to 
lawmakers
stating the agency's position.
In that letter, the agency said the amendment "does not prevent horse
slaughter at all." Along with Whitfield, amendment sponsors were Sens.
Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., John Ensign, R-Nev., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., 
and
Reps. John Spratt Jr., D-S.C.., John Sweeney, R-N.Y.
Two horse slaughterhouses in Texas and one in Illinois process horse 
meat
largely for human consumption abroad.
Owners of the plant say ending the inspections will eliminate between 
182 to
222 jobs and cause a total $41 million economic loss annually in the
communities where the plants are located.
The slaughterhouses petitioned the USDA for the new inspection service 
about
three weeks after Bush signed the farm spending bill that included the 
horse
slaughter amendment. The plants also asked the USDA to speed things up 
by
dispensing with soliciting public comment on the proposed inspections.
"We just asked for them to allow us the same services that have been
available to us for some time. We have a history of paying for services 
with
USDA, like bison," said Jim Bradshaw, lobbyist for the Texas plants. 
"We
also pay for all of our overtime, so there's been a process in effect 
that
allowed us to pay for our services with them."
The slaughterhouses want the fee-for-service in place by March 10 on an
emergency basis to avoid economic losses. Horse meat processing is a 
large
part of the Texas plants' operations, Bradshaw said.
Fort Worth-based Beltex Corp. and Dallas Crown Inc., based in Kaufman, 
have
combined payroll of $11 million and spend a combined $6 million on air
freight at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the plants said in 
their
petition.
The third plant, Cavel International Inc. based in DeKalb, Ill. pays
transportation companies $1.5 million a year to transport livestock and 
$8
million buying livestock. None are publicly traded companies.
Michael Markarian, vice president of the Humane Society of the United
States, said the Federal Meat Inspection Act states that horse and 
other
meat must be inspected by USDA, and the agency must bear the cost.
"It protects food for export. It would destroy American markets if we 
sent
tainted food," Markarian said.
The USDA maintains another law allows it to provide, when requested,
fee-for-service inspections.
Whitfield alleged the USDA has been maneuvering to set up the
fee-for-service since a conference committee met to draft a compromise 
farm
spending bill.
"They're being very precise in doing every thing they can to circumvent 
the
intent of Congress," Whitfield said. But their efforts are helping 
build
support for another bill that bans horse slaughter outright, he said.
 
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