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Humane groups ask FDA to declare horse meat 'unqualified' for human consumption


Petition follows the lifting of a five-year ban on horse slaughter.

National Report

— Colorado non-profit Front Range Equine Rescue (FRER) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to rule that U.S. horses are not fit for human consumption.

The groups allege in a petition filed with FDA March 26 that domestic horses are “unqualified” for human consumption because they are not raised for food and are routinely administered various drugs and medications. The presence of these drugs would pose a threat to human health and food safety, since there is currently no method for monitoring and assessing the drug risks associated with consuming horse meat, according to the 79-page petition, which claims more than 110 substances banned in food animals are administered to horses.

“The slaughter of American horses for meat is an unnecessary and tragic end for these icons of our nation’s history,” says Hilary Wood, president of FRER. “Horses are treated with many different drugs throughout their lives because horse owners don’t expect they could end up as meat. Horses often have many uses during their lives, from show rings to trail riding to therapy programs. Their lives should not end with an arduous journey to a terrifying death to be turned into an expensive and potentially toxic dinner.”

FRER and HSUS also are asking FDA to make alternate rules, while at the same time noting there is no “realistic way to be able to fully assess the risks of eating horse meat.” Those alternate rules would require records be kept for all of a horse’s owners, and listing all drugs and treatments administered to the horse since birth. Both groups also ask FDA to require verification that a horse to be used for human consumption was never exposed to any substances prohibited for use in food animals. They want FDA to adopt additional rules to mandate the testing horses heading to slaughter to ensure compliance with the proposed rules.

FDA has yet to issue a formal response to the petition, according to HSUS’ Stephanie Twining.

The petition comes on the heels of a Congressional action that effectively ended a five-year ban on the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Congress quietly approved the reinstatement of domestic horse slaughter for human consumption Nov. 17 by removing language in appropriations bill, HR 2112 that blocked USDA from inspecting horse slaughter facilities. The omission created enough of a gap in regulations that would allow horse slaughter facilities to potentially resume operations in the United States. Government officials, like Dr. Elizabeth Hagen of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), have expressed doubt that a return to horse slaughter will materialize, citing various federal, state and local requirements and prohibitions against horse slaughter for human consumption are still in place and will likely create some barriers to the reopening of horse slaughter plants. Four states—California, Florida, Illinois and Texas—have explicitly banned horse slaughter for human consumption and a number of others have introduced legislation in 2012 that either ban horse slaughter for meat or call for investigation into the possibility of opening horse slaughter plants.

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