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Horsemeat on US Menus? USDA Set to Approve Slaughter House

Friday, 01 Mar 2013 10:24 AM

By Michael Mullins

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While Europe struggles with a scandal over horsemeat being surreptitiously added to food there, the United States might be getting back in the business of producing horsemeat for human consumption provided the Department of Agriculture approves inspectors for a New Mexico horse slaughtering plant.

The Valley Meat Company, which owns the Roswell, N.M.-based horse slaughtering facility, sued the USDA and its Food Safety and Inspection Service last fall, alleging there was a lack of inspection services for horses sent to the slaughter in the U.S., forcing the horses to be slaughtered in Mexico and Canada, where standards are inhumane, the New York Times reports.

If the New Mexico plant receives USDA approval, it will be the first horse slaughtering facility to operate in the U.S. since 2007. That year, the plant closed because of an appropriations bill passed by Congress, which featured a rider that forbade the USDA from financing the inspection of such meat, the Times reports.

In 2011, Congress removed the rider from a spending act, allowing for the reopening of such facilities. However, there weren't enough inspectors to start the industry back up again.

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Since the facilities are eligible to reopen, the Valley Meat Company has referenced the Federal Meat Inspection Act, to force the USDA to provide inspectors for examination of “all amenable species,” which include cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, horses, and mules, before they can enter a slaughtering facility.

Valley Meat attorney A. Blair Dunn told the Times that the USDA recently requested a 60-day 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," he said.

Even after extensive inspections, the horsemeat would not be sold in the U.S. until there was a demand for it, Dunn said.

"Last spring, they were in discussions with several companies in European countries about exporting their products," Dunn said of his clients. "I’m sure if markets do develop in this country for horse meat for human consumption, they will look at them."

The current European scandal aside, horsemeat is popular in countries like France. It has yet to catch on in the U.S. Though there is no evidence that it is unsafe, it is often characterized that way in this country, as many point to drugs like phenylbutazone that are pumped into the animals to treat inflammation.

Related stories:

Britain Finds Horsemeat in School Meals, Hospitals

Ikea Meatballs Containing Horsemeat Pulled Throughout Europe

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