for National Geographic News
Three foreign-owned processing plants will be allowed to continue slaughtering horses for meat, the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced yesterday.
The slaughterhousestwo in Texas and one in Illinoiskill a combined total of 70,000 to 90,000 horses each year and sell the meat overseas as a delicacy and in the U.S. as food for zoo animals.
The USDA's decision has angered politicians and animal-welfare activists, who say it runs counter to a measure signed into U.S. law last November.
The law removes funding for federal inspections at horse-processing plants beginning next month. It was supposed to force slaughterhouses to shut down, since federal regulations require the inspections.
Instead the USDA is allowing the slaughterhouses to pay the agency's estimated U.S. $350,000 annual horse-plant inspection costs under a program established for processing exotic meats, like deer, bison, and rabbit.
The agency says that the funding cuts do not remove its responsibility for inspecting meat processed at officially recognized facilities to ensure public health.
Horse-slaughter opponents say the decision undermines a major victory in protecting the animals from unnecessary and inhumane deaths.
"It's disturbing that an agency like USDA feels it is appropriate to obstruct a law passed by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority in Congress when their sole mission is to implement the law," said Congressperson John Sweeney, a Republican who represents New York State.
Horses are supposed to be rendered unconscious prior to slaughter, usually by a stun gun. But sometimes, welfare workers say, it takes several attempts if the horse panics and tries to flee.
Consequently, animal advocates assert, horses are improperly stunned, even with repeated blows, and are still conscious when their throats are slit.
What's more, at least one of the plantsthe Dallas Crown facility in Kaufman, Texashas been declared a nuisance because the city's sewer system was not designed to handle the volume of waste materials from the plant.
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