USDA bureaucrats and horse slaughter

January 13, 2006


Last year, Congress voted overwhelmingly to include an amendment in the agriculture appropriations bill that would, in the words of Sen. John Ensign, "end the slaughter of America's horses for human consumption overseas." Mr. Ensign was a co-sponsor of the bill, as was Sen. Robert Byrd, who said the amendment would "stop the slaughter of horses for human consumption." In the House, amendment co-sponsor Rep. John Spratt said, "This amendment in simple terms will stop the slaughter for human consumption of horses."
    So, we learn with surprise that this amendment apparently "does not prevent horse slaughter at all," according to Department of Agriculture General Counsel James Michael Kelly. All it does, Mr. Kelly wrote in a letter to Congress, is prohibit "expenditure of funds provided under the 2006 [appropriations] Act to pay the salaries and expenses of personnel to inspect the horses." In other words, the only purpose of the amendment is to cut a little grist from the federal budget.
    Mr. Kelly's assertion is ridiculous. Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act horses bound for human consumption must be inspected by USDA employees both prior to and after slaughter. The amendment, which President Bush signed into law in November, bans horse slaughter by prohibiting the funds used for the inspections. As the record clearly states, this was Congress' intent. In the words of the Humane Society of the United States, any other explanation "would render the entire Amendment meaningless" and forces one to accept the "absurd premise that all of the time, effort, and energy spent debating and enacting this Amendment was for the sole purpose of changing the way [USDA] pays for horse inspection prior to slaughter."
    Nonetheless, USDA is considering a petition from the three foreign-owned horse slaughter plants in the country to disregard the explicit will of Congress. The two Belgian plants and one French-owned plant are offering to pay the inspectors themselves under a fee-for-service system used for "certain exotic animals," like elk, reindeer, rabbits, and now, we suppose, horses. Moreover, they want to do this without having to go through the messy public notice and comment period otherwise common for such requests. Astoundingly, the USDA seems prepared to let them do this.
    So, we'll set up our own public notice and comment period. Readers who might not like the idea of a U.S. agency ignoring a law of Congress to placate a few foreign horse slaughterers should voice their concerns to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. Send an e-mail to Mr. Johanns at or call his office at 202-720-3631