ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (AP) — The first U.S.-based horse slaughter plant in six years will open soon unless Congress reinstates a ban on the practice, the country's agriculture secretary said Tuesday.
Valley Meat Co. has been fighting for more than a year for permission to slaughter horses. The New Mexico company sued the Department of Agriculture last year, claiming that inaction on its application was driven by emotional political debates and that delays had cost it hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"We are going to do this, and I would imagine that it would be done relatively soon," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a telephone interview Tuesday. The USDA re-inspected the plant last week.
The Obama administration opposes horse slaughter. Its recent budget proposal eliminates funding for inspections of horse slaughter houses, which would effectively reinstate a ban on the practice. Congress eliminated that funding in 2006, which forced a shutdown of domestic slaughter facilities.
But Congress reinstated the funding in 2011, prompting Valley Meat Co. and a handful of other businesses around the country to seek permission to open plants.
At issue in the debate over domestic horse slaughter is whether horses are livestock or pets, and how best to control the nation's exploding equine population.
Supporters of horse slaughter point to a 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office that shows horse abuse and abandonment have been increasing since 2006. They say it is better to slaughter the animals in humane, federally regulated facilities than have them abandoned to starve or shipped to inhumane facilities in Mexico.
The number of U.S. horses sent to other countries for slaughter has nearly tripled since 2006. Many animal humane groups are pushing for a ban on domestic slaughter as well as a ban on shipping horses to Mexico and Canada.
Vilsack said the administration understands the concerns and "needs to be more creative" in finding alternative solutions to horse overpopulation.
Associated Press writer Jeri Clausing contributed.