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Vote a victory for slaughterhouse foes

WASHINGTON – Opponents of slaughtering horses for human consumption in New Mexico and across the country won a big victory Thursday when the U.S. House Appropriations Committee voted to scrap federal payments for horse slaughterhouse inspections.

On a voice vote signaling strong bipartisan support, the committee approved an amendment that would end federal funding for slaughterhouse inspections, which would effectively ban horse slaughter in the U.S. The amendment, sponsored by Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va. and Bill Young, R-Fla., would impose a five-year ban on horse slaughter.

“The vote by the committee today demonstrates once again the widespread opposition to horse slaughter in the U.S.,” said Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M. “This is an important step forward to ensure horses are treated humanely and that horse slaughter is prohibited in the United States.”

The Appropriations Committee’s decision marks a significant setback for Roswell-based Valley Meat Co. and its owner, Rick De Los Santos, who still hopes to compel USDA inspections necessary to start up the nation’s first horse slaughterhouse in six years. Four other horse slaughter applications are pending around the country. Congress halted funding for mandatory inspections in 2007, effectively closing all horse slaughter operations. The funding was restored for the current fiscal year, opening the door for De Los Santos’ plans.

In statements provided to the Journal , all four Democrats in New Mexico’s congressional delegation, as well as Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, hailed the Appropriations Committee vote.

“A horse’s companionship is a way of life for many people across New Mexico,” Martinez said. “We rely on them for work and bond with them through their loyalty. Despite the federal government’s decision to legalize horse slaughter for human consumption, I believe creating a horse slaughter industry in New Mexico is wrong, and I am strongly opposed.”

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said, “I share the concerns of many New Mexicans who are opposed to horse slaughter, and support barring funding for the inspection of horse meat for human consumption, especially when USDA is subject to budget sequestration.”

A. Blair Dunn, De Los Santos’ Albuquerque-based attorney, denounced the House committee vote and vowed to keep pressing for congressional funding of horse slaughterhouse inspections that would allow his client to open for business.

“We still have the full House to get through and the Senate, so it’s not a done deal in any respect,” Dunn told the Journal . “We understand Rep. Moran’s heart is in the right place, but the end result is he is actually harming horses.”

Proponents of horse slaughter in the U.S. contend it would prevent American horses from being shipped to Mexico, where slaughterhouse standards are less humane. They also argue that high grain costs are resulting in many horse owners allowing their horses to starve.

Rep. Steve Pearce, the New Mexico delegation’s lone Republican, said he supports funding for slaughterhouse inspections.

“If horse slaughter is not allowed in the U.S., horses are merely shipped to other countries, where the pregnant, starving, and lame horses face far less humane slaughter than they would here,” Pearce said. “And in this recession, many middle-class families can no longer afford to feed their pet horses and are forced to turn them loose to die a horrible and agonizing death from starvation.

“Banning horse slaughter in the U.S. does not result in humane treatment of horses,” Pearce added.

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., introduced a bill in the Agriculture Committee on May 15 that would have banned the actual authorization – not just the funding – to inspect horse slaughter facilities. She withdrew the amendment when it became apparent it would not pass the committee. Lujan Grisham applauded Thursday’s Appropriations Committee vote and called horse slaughter “a cruel process that causes great pain and distress to the animals.”

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