Regulators expected to approve horse slaughter houses

In the wake of investigations involving horsemeat-tainted beef abroad, federal regulators may clear the way for a horse-slaughtering house in New Mexico.

It would make equine meat available in the United States for the first time since 2007, according to the New York Times.

Congress passed a rider to an appropriations bill that barred the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from financing the inspection of horse products for human consumption. That addition was continually inserted into spending bills up until 2011 — when it disappeared from the language.

Though the change stems from a lawsuit by Valley Meat Company, which sued the department for a lack of regulation and oversight of horsemeat production, “several” companies have asked the USDA to re-establish the inspection policy, which would allow horse slaughterhouses in the United States, spokesman Justin DeJong told the Times.

The USDA could hand down a decision in as little as two months, and is expected to approve the policy.

There is no mention of reinstating the inspection policies on the department’s website. In fact, in a blog post from 2011 titled “Setting the Record Straight on Congress’ Lifting of the Ban on Horse Slaughter,” Phil Derfler — the deputy administrator for the Food Safety and Inspection Service — wrote:

“While Congress has technically lifted the ban, horse processing will not resume anytime in the near term... To date, there have been no requests that the Department initiate the authorization process for any horse processing operation in the United States.”

Valley Meat Company sued then-Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackThomas J. VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE and Al Almanza, the head of the food safety inspection service, late last year. The Roswell, N.M.-based plant claims that a lack of regulation surrounding the controversial meat violates the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

The company’s lawyer told the Times that the Justice Department filed an extension to respond to the lawsuit because the “USDA plans to issue a grant of inspection within that time, which would allow my clients to begin operations.”

The report says that although the Valley Meat Company does not plan to sell the horse meat in the United States — at least initially — various groups, including the Humane Society, have filed petitions to federal agencies to delay the approval of facilities or horses for slaughter. Among other claims, the Humane Society is worried about anti-anxiety drugs given to the animals before they are killed.