(WASHINGTON) -- Horses can now legally be butchered for human consumption in the U.S. after Congress lifted a ban on funding horse processing inspections this month.
The measure was part of an agriculture spending bill President Obama signed on Nov. 18, reversing the 2006 decision by Congress to defund horse meat inspections.
The likelihood of Americans dining on horses, however, is slight since there is no culture of eating horse meat in this country, they are revered as pets and many states have strict controls on horse meat. California and Illinois have laws banning the consumption of horse meat.
The meat, however, could be exported to Europe and Asia.
Animal welfare advocates pushed for the ban when it passed five years ago, but horse industry advocates and the Government Accountability Office say the ban had a slew of unintended consequences: More horses were left abandoned when owners could no longer afford to keep them or use them for work; owners who wanted to sell their horses for slaughter were forced to have them shipped to Canada or Mexico, where slaughtering is legal; and horse prices became depressed in the United States, according to a report released by the GOA in June.
In the years since the last horse slaughterhouse closed in America, horse abandonment and export has grown significantly, according to the GAO report. In Colorado, for example, data showed that investigations for horse neglect and abuse increased more than 60 percent, from 975 in 2005 to almost 1,600 in 2009, the report said.
According to one advocate, the ban also forced the bottom to drop out of the horse industry entirely.
“It’s basic economics,” said David Duquette, president of United Horsemen, which advocated for lifting the ban. “Horses used to be a $102 billion a year industry, with at least 500,000 direct jobs in horse industry. That’s been cut in half.”
The ban was lifted quietly in this year’s agriculture spending bill. Now, advocates say that the $62 million-a-year slaughter industry could be back up and running in as little as 30 to 90 days.
Opponents of the measure say that they will fight any meat processing plants that open in the coming months.
The Department of Agriculture issued a statement Tuesday saying there are no slaughterhouses in the U.S. that butcher horses for human consumption now, but if one were to open, it would conduct inspections to make sure federal laws were being followed.
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