Americans love their horses, both real and fictional. Not long ago, a book about a beloved Depression-era racehorse, Seabiscuit, became a bestseller and an Oscar nominee for best picture.
Two things Americans won't do for their horses is eat them or much care for them in their old age and when they are in surplus. Other countries in Europe and Asia do, however, eat them and think of horsemeat as a delicacy.
At one time U.S. slaughterhouses did a decent business in butchering horses for foreign consumption. But this offended the sensibilities of many Americans and pressure grew on Congress to stop it. The horse advocates had sentimentality on their side; the slaughterhouses, economics. Sentimentality won.
In 2005, Congress in a backdoor way effectively outlawed the export of butchered horses. It cut off funds for U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection of horse slaughter facilities and without those inspections the meat cannot be shipped across state lines.
Horses are still slaughtered by rendering plants for animal food and hides, and an estimated 140,000 live U.S. horses are shipped each year to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico.
But as Lee Bowman of Scripps Howard News Service reports, the clause with the ban was quietly dropped this week from a must-pass federal spending bill that will again make it possible for U.S. processors to butcher horses for human consumption here and abroad. The bill will likely pass because the funds in it are needed to avert a partial government shutdown this weekend.
A coalition of horse breeders, slaughterhouses, large animal veterinarians and exporters say lifting the ban will create jobs and be good for the economy and, moreover, cut down on the number of horses abandoned or starved by owners who can no longer afford the upkeep, a claim supported by at least one government study.
Animal rights activists has vowed to win passage of a bill that would permanently ban horse slaughter in the U.S. and the export of horses to foreign packinghouses. They've picked up 25 co-sponsors in the Senate and nearly 100 in the House but most members of Congress, facing an election year, have little appetite for getting into a fight over horsemeat.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)
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