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TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Horses could soon be butchered in the U.S. for human consumption after Congress quietly lifted a 5-year-old ban on funding horse meat inspections, and activists say slaughterhouses could be up and running in as little as a month.
Slaughter opponents pushed a measure cutting off funding for horse meat inspections through Congress in 2006 after other efforts to pass outright bans on horse slaughter failed in previous years. Congress lifted the ban in a spending bill President Barack Obama signed into law Nov. 18 to keep the government afloat until mid-December.
It did not, however, allocate any new money to pay for horse meat inspections, which opponents claim could cost taxpayers $3 million to $5 million a year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture would have to find the money in its existing budget, which is expected to see more cuts this year as Congress and the White House aim to trim federal spending.
The USDA issued a statement Tuesday saying there are no slaughterhouses in the U.S. that butcher horses for human consumption now, but if one were to open, it would conduct inspections to make sure federal laws were being followed. USDA spokesman Neil Gaffney declined to answer questions beyond what was in the statement.
The last U.S. slaughterhouse that butchered horses closed in 2007 in Illinois, and animal welfare activists warned of massive public outcry in any town where a slaughterhouse may open.
"If plants open up in Oklahoma or Nebraska, you'll see controversy, litigation, legislative action and basically a very inhospitable environment to operate," predicted Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of The Humane Society of the United States. "Local opposition will emerge and you'll have tremendous controversy over slaughtering Trigger and Mr. Ed."
But pro-slaughter activists say the ban had unintended consequences, including an increase in neglect and the abandonment of horses, and that they are scrambling to get a plant going — possibly in Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska or Missouri. They estimate a slaughterhouse could open in 30 to 90 days with state approval and eventually as many as 200,000 horses a year could be slaughtered for human consumption. Most of the meat would be shipped to countries in Europe and Asia, including France and Japan.