Federal legislation intended to fund U.S. government agencies will continue provide revenue for USDA inspections at horse processing plants located in the United States through September 2013. The current federal continuing funding resolution that also included USDA expired on March 27.
Every year since 2006, lawmakers had denied funding for USDA meat inspections at horse processing plants in the United States. The lack of funding eliminated food safety certifications necessary for U.S.-produced horsemeat products to be exported Europe and other offshore markets. As a result, the defunding figured significantly in operators’ decisions to close the last U.S.-based horse processing plant in 2007. Thereafter, U.S. horses were exported to processing facilities in Mexico and Canada. In November 2011, Congress passed an appropriations bill that did not include language specifically forbidding the USDA from using federal dollars to fund horse slaughter plant inspections. Since then, the owners of the Valley Meat Co., LLC, in New Mexico have applied for a USDA inspection permit, which remains pending. In addition, according to published reports, operators of prospective plants in several other states have also applied for inspection permits. Currently no horse slaughter plants are currently operating in the United States.
In June 2012, U.S. Rep. Jim Moran introduced and the U.S. House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment that reduced funding for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) meat facility inspections to a level below the fiscal 2012 funding level. The amendment also deprived the USDA of funds to inspect horse processing plants in the United States. Moran said that funding horse processing plant inspections would consume FSIS resources at the expense of funding for chicken, pork and beef inspections.
Last week, on March 21, Congress passed HR 933, the Full Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013, which provides funding for the Department of Agriculture at fiscal 2012 levels, but does not contain the Moran Amendment. President Barak Obama subsequently signed the measure into law.
On March 25, Moran submitted a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting that the USDA deny applications for horse processing plant inspections. In his letter, Moran argues that horsemeat inspections will strain USDA resources.
“At a time when USDA’s budget is diminished by budget cuts and sequestration … every dollar spent at horse slaughter plants would divert necessary resources away from meat actually consumed by Americans,” Moran said in his letter. “I strongly urge you to exercise all available options to prevent the resumption of this industry.”
The letter also asks Vilsack to include language prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars for horse processing plant inspections in the in the Department of Agriculture’s 2014 budget proposal.
“We expect that (budget) proposal in early April,” said Moran’s spokeswoman Anne Hughes. “If it is included in the agency proposal, it should be easier to ensure (defunding) language in the bill.”
A USDA spokesman confirmed that Vilsack had received the letter from Moran’s office.
“We will be responding soon,” the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, in a separate statement, the spokesman said that without a ban, the FSIS must go forward with inspections at horse processing plants which successfully apply for permits.
“While there are currently no establishments authorized to slaughter horses, several companies have requested that FSIS reestablish inspection,” the spokesman’s statement said. “These companies must still complete necessary technical requirements and FSIS must still complete its inspector training, but at that point, the department will legally have no choice but to go forward with inspections, which is why we urge Congress to reinstate the ban.”
Blair Dunn, attorney for the Valley Meat Co., was unavailable for comment.
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