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Published March 01, 2013, 01:38 PM

Horse slaughter plant might be approved by USDA

With a horse meat controversy raging in Europe, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is likely to approve a horse slaughtering plant in New Mexico in the next two months - making it the first time since 2007 that equine meat suitable for human consumption will be produced in the United States.

With a horse meat controversy raging in Europe, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is likely to approve a horse slaughtering plant in New Mexico in the next two months - making it the first time since 2007 that equine meat suitable for human consumption will be produced in the United States.

The plant, in Roswell, N.M., is owned by Valley Meat Co., which sued the USDA and its Food Safety and Inspection Service in the fall over the lack of inspection services for horses going to slaughter. Horse meat cannot be processed for human consumption in the United States without inspection by the USDA.

Justin DeJong, a spokesman for the agriculture department, said “several” companies had asked the agency to re-establish inspection of horses for slaughter.

He said the Obama administration was urging Congress to reinstate an effective ban on the production of horse meat for human consumption; that ban lapsed in 2011.

The impending approval comes amid growing concern among U.S. consumers that horse meat will make its way into ground beef products as it has in Europe. Major companies, including Tesco, Nestle and Ikea, have pulled food from shelves in 14 countries after tests showed that products labeled 100 percent beef contained small amounts of horse meat. Horse meat is not necessarily unsafe, but some opponents of horse slaughtering say consumption of horse meat is ill-advised because of the use of various kinds of drugs in horses.

The last plant that slaughtered horse meat for human consumption in the United States closed in 2007, after congressional approval of an appropriations bill that included a rider forbidding the USDA from financing the inspection of such meat. That rider was renewed in subsequent appropriations bills until 2011, when Congress removed it from an omnibus spending act.

That opened the door for a renewal of the horse slaughter business, but only if the USDA re-established inspections.

Valley Meat sued Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, and Al Almanza, the head of the food safety inspection service, charging that the department’s failure to offer inspection of horse meat violated the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

That law directs the Agriculture Department to appoint inspectors to examine “all amenable species” before they enter a slaughtering facility. “Amenable species” were animals subject to the act the day before it was enacted, including cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, horses and mules.

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