Tucked inside President Barack Obama’s 1,500-page budget is an item that would quickly reverse a federal action to reinstate horse slaughter in the U.S.
The move may have effectively halted the permitting of Roswell-based Valley Meat Co. by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The company expected to get the go-ahead to begin processing at the end of this month.
“It’s frustrating,” said A. Blair Dunn, attorney for Valley Meat Co.’s owner Rick De Los Santos.
Valley Meat Co. filed for a permit from the USDA for a grant of inspection in March 2012. The company then filed suit against the agency and its Food Safety and Inspection Service last fall for not allowing inspection services to move forward.
“This is just more of the same,” Dunn said. “(The USDA) has avoided doing their job and are hoping Congress will change the rules so they don’t have to.”
The USDA deflected questions Friday about Valley Meat Co.’s application. A Washington, D.C., spokeswoman did not answer any specific questions about the process.
“In the Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Act, Congress lifted the ban established in 2006 that prevented horse slaughter in the U.S. The administration’s FY 2014 budget proposes to reinstate that prohibition,” said Michelle Saghafi, USDA spokeswoman.
Obama signed the bill immediately after 2012 Congressional action. The new budget still must pass through hurdles before becoming law. The budget arrived two months late and received a tepid response from Congress. Obama’s 2012 budget did not earn a single vote in the House or Senate that year.
Three facilities have applied for a grant of inspection exclusively for equine slaughter since 2012, according to the USDA. No facility has been approved.
“The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is currently reviewing those applications. … These companies must still complete necessary technical requirements and FSIS must still complete its inspector training, but at that point, the Department will legally have no choice but to go forward with inspections, which is why we urge Congress to reinstate the ban,” Saghafi said on March 27.
Dunn said he felt the USDA was inappropriately “dragging its feet” on the applications and waiting for horse slaughter in the U.S. to be banned again.
“It isn’t what a federal agency is supposed to be doing,” Dunn said. “They’re supposed to carry out the laws. They’re not supposed to be trying to avoid the law.”
Valley Meat Co.’s owner intends to process the meat for sell abroad, but the meat cannot be processed for humans without an inspection by the USDA.
Since 2011, the company has spent money on its plant and lost millions of dollars in expected income, Dunn said.
“That’s at least $100,000 spent since they were ready to go,” he said. “That’s several millions of dollars of lost income and that’s taxable income to Chaves County and to Roswell.”
Two Congressional bills also were introduced Friday: the House and Senate’s “Safeguard American Food Exports Act of 2013” that called to “prevent human health threats posed by the consumption of equines raised in the United States.” Both were referred to committees and are not expected to become law.
Exports of live horses for slaughter outside the U.S. has grown significantly since the practice was banned in 2006. Many are sent to Mexico or Canada.