No haven for horse meat

A Europe-wide food fraud scandal over horse meat sold as beef emerged in mid-January when Irish authorities found traces of horse in beef burgers made by firms in Ireland and Britain and sold in supermarket chains including Tesco and Aldi.
(Sebastien Bozon / AFP/Getty Images)

There is no market these days for horse meat in this country. The last horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. stopped production in 2007, the result of laws in Illinois and Texas banning horse slaughter or the sale of horse meat for human consumption. That same year, a congressional appropriations bill that included a rider banning the funding of U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection of horse meat went into effect. And without inspections, U.S. plants can’t sell meat anywhere in the world. But after years of renewing the ban, Congress let it lapse in late 2011. Now the Department of Agriculture is under pressure from a New Mexico meat-processing company to resume horse meat inspections.

Congress should reinstate the ban on funding such inspections, for several reasons.

In this country, horses are not raised as food animals, with the sort of controls and restrictions in place for cattle, poultry and swine destined for our tables. Currently, horses that are bought here to be sold to processing plants in Mexico and Canada are acquired from random sources, aggregated at feedlots or ranches, and then shipped to slaughter. They have not been tracked from birth, as cattle and pigs are.

In addition, the horses have usually been treated over their lifetimes with a vast array of drugs, the most common of which is the pain reliever phenylbutazone, a substance the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stipulates can never be administered to animals processed for food.


Furthermore, for horse meat plants to resume operating, the Department of Agriculture would have to train and deploy inspectors at a time when its meat inspection budget is being cut by the sequestration.

And there is another reason. For centuries, horses have been our companions in life and in sport, and most Americans find the notion of killing horses to eat them repugnant. Horse meat isn’t even used in dog food any longer because dog owners won’t buy it. California not only bans horse slaughter for human consumption and the serving of horse meat in restaurants, but prohibits the export of horses to be slaughtered for food.

Most of the horse meat that was once processed in this country was exported to Europe, where people do eat it. And horses are regularly exported to be slaughtered and sold as meat there. That business won’t change if the ban on funding horse meat inspections is reinstated. Nevertheless, horse meat production should not be allowed to resume in this country.