Operations stopped last week at the last remaining U.S. horse slaughter facility -- Cavel International in Dekalb, IL, after a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled it illegal for horse plants to pay USDA for voluntary inspection services. USDA had agreed to allow paid voluntary inspection for the nation's three remaining horse slaughter plants last year, after Congress cut off funding for federal inspections.

Horse slaughter operations were suspended recently at the other two U.S. plants -- Bel-Tex in Fort Worth, and Dallas Crown in Kaufman -- after an appellate court upheld a Texas law making it illegal to sell, possess and transport horsemeat for sale for human consumption. The firms are weighing a decision to appeal.

The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), which sued USDA in February 2006 over its fee-for-service inspection process for horses slaughtered for human consumption, hailed the most recent ruling, claiming the arrangement created a conflict of interest.

However, the pro-agriculture Animal Agriculture Alliance takes a different view. Kay Johnson, executive vice president, cites a mid-March AP story that indicates thousands of horses in Kentucky and other states are starving as a result of the successful opposition to horse slaughter.

With the closing of all three horse slaughter plants in the U.S., the price of horses has dropped markedly. Rather than sell, some horse owners are setting them free, letting them starve and refusing to seek veterinary treatment.

"This sad state of affairs is the direct result of the anti-horse slaughter movement, led by the vegan-led HSUS," Johnson says. "These groups claim to care about animal welfare, but when faced with an animal welfare disaster caused by their efforts, they callously insist the market will sort itself out or, worse yet, coldheartedly dispute that this crisis exists, while leaving seriously underfunded local animal rescue operations to save animals."

Chris Heyde, deputy legislative director for the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, says that, while horse slaughter has been suspended in the U.S., they can be hauled to plants across the border. Currently pending in Congress are H.R. 503 and its Senate companion measure, S. 311, which would ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption and prohibit the transport of horses outside of the U.S. for slaughter.
-- Southwest Meat Association and Burt Rutherford