Funding for USDA horse processing plant inspections would be eliminated through 2015 under a request contained in the $3.9 trillion budget proposal revealed this week by President Barack Obama. But one horse processing advocate believes the budget plan could violate North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) provisions.
Horse processing has not taken place in the United States since 2007, when a combination of court rulings and legislation shuttered the last two domestic equine processing plants in Illinois and Texas. Horses were thereafter shipped to Mexico and Canada for processing.
Congressional funding bills contained amendments denying the USDA funds for horse processing plant inspections until November 2011. Then, Congress passed an appropriations bill that did not contain language specifically forbidding the agency from using federal dollars to fund horse slaughter plant inspections. Shortly afterward, horse processing plants were proposed in several states, however, none became operational.
In April 2013, Obama introduced his $3.8 trillion budget plan for fiscal 2014. Under the budget, the USDA received $22.6 billion in descretionary revenue, which previously could have been use to fund horse processing plant inspections. However, the budget also included the USDA's request that Congress vote to prohibit the agency from using any of those federal funds to inspect U.S. horse processing plants.
In January, Appropriations Committee leaders from U.S. House and Senate released their consolidated appropriations bill, the "Omnibus Bill of 2014," which strips the USDA of funding to pay horsemeat inspection personnel. Both the House and Senate passed the Omnibus Bill, and on Jan. 17, Obama signed the bill into law.
On March 4, Obama released his $3.9 trillion budget plan for fiscal 2015. That plan devotes $22.2 billion in decresitionary revenue, and, like the 2014 budget, requests that Congress prohibit the USDA from using its funds for horse processing plant inspections.
Attorney Blair Dunn, who represents Valley Meats, LLC in litigation relative to potential horse processing at its New Mexico plant, said in a written statement that he believes the proposed budget could violate NAFTA's terms by failing to protect legitimate businesses in Canada and Mexico.
“The U.S. Congress defundng a mandatory law … is the same as 'taking' without just compensation of a lawful business under NAFTA with the companies have Mexican or Canadian ownership,” Dunn's statement said.
Meanwhile, horse advocate Jerry Finch, president of the Texas-based Habitat for Horses, believes the proposed budget and current budget legislation denying funds for horse plant inspections do not help U.S. horses bound for processing in Canada or Mexico.
“Over 400 equines per day make the trip across the borders to their doom and that is a battle we continue to fight,” he said.
Obama's 2015 budget plan remains pending.