Ag chief explains horse slaughter stance
BY ALLEN PUSEY
The Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON - Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns
denied Tuesday that his department tried to derail efforts to curb the
slaughter of horses for meat. He said his department has simply been trying to
deal with a legal quandary Congress created.
"We were all scratching our
heads around here," Johanns said of legislation passed last year that cut
off federal funding for legally required pre-slaughter horse inspections.
The action affected all three U.S.
horse meat plants: Dallas Crown in Kaufman, Texas, Beltex Corp. in Fort Worth,
Texas, and Cavel International in DeKalb, Ill.
Industry critics had hoped the move
would shut down the $41 million-a-year industry that exports horse meat to
Europe, Japan and Mexico. Instead, the Agriculture Department agreed to let the
industry pay to continue the inspections.
Johanns told reporters Tuesday that
in allowing the fee-based system, his department was addressing a legal
problem: The law still required the inspections, but Congress allotted no money
to pay for them.
"On one hand, the legal mandate
wasn't removed. On the other hand, the money was," Johanns said.
A legislative report regarding the
budget limitation acknowledges that the Agriculture Department is
"obliged" to inspect horse meat for human consumption. Because
pre-slaughter inspections are part of the process, the fee-based solution was
all but suggested, Johanns said.
Even so, the department will have to
defend its reasoning in court. The Humane Society and other animal-rights
groups filed suit Tuesday in federal court in Washington to block the new
The suit charges that the department
ignored Congress' intent, which it says was to end the slaughter of horses for
human consumption and bypassed rule-making procedures to make an
"end-run" around last year's legislation.
Johanns was asked whether Congress
should simply outlaw horse slaughter for human consumption if that is its
"I don't know what Congress will
do. I know what we had to do," he said. "We had to deal with this