Hold your horses.
While a federal ban on horse slaughtering has been lifted, a state study ordered last year by the legislature indicates setting up a state slaughtering system would be costly and complicated.
Last session, Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill introduced a bill, LB305, which would have created a State Meat and Poultry Inspection Program. The possibility of having horse slaughtering in the state was a “major factor” in introducing the bill, Larson said.
“The horse processing was obviously a huge part of it and a main motivation of mine, especially growing up around them and understanding the horse market,” he said. A hearing on his bill last year drew ardent supporters and opponents.
Until Nov. 18, 2011, there was a federal ban on horse slaughter. Because the proposed state inspection program would receive up to half of its funding from the federal government, state inspection programs could not have horse slaughter during the federal ban, according to an interim study on LB305.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t expect that a lot of horses will be slaughtered anytime soon.
“While Congress has technically lifted the ban, USDA does not expect significant horse slaughter activity to resume in the near term as a number of federal, state and local requirements and prohibitions remain in place,” according to a statement from the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Congress did not allocate any funding for horse slaughter, the statement noted.
Larson’s bill required a study to see what interest state businesses had in participating in a state inspection program. The survey was sent to 382 meat processors and 41 responded.
The survey had a 30 percent response rate, if only the small and very small processing plants were considered, said Dennis Burson, an extension meat specialist and professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who co-authored the report. These plants would be the most directly affected, he said.
The report found that 55 percent of the plants that responded are “very unlikely” to apply for a state meat inspection program. Five plants that responded to the survey said they were likely to apply to apply for a state meat inspection program.
Larson said he will continue to work on the issue next year or the year after that to help small and niche meat market processors. He added that he was encouraged by the fact that five plants said they would likely apply for state inspection.
“I think that it’s a good starting number,” Larson said.
State meat inspection programs can provide the benefit of more communication between the processors and the regulators, Burson said.
“If you’re in the state and you’re overseeing and regulating the state you also want it to succeed, so there are less layers of people in between,” he said.
Some respondents also noted that being able to market their products locally, through the state inspection program, would have been beneficial to their businesses, Burson said. The report estimated the operational costs of the program to be about $845,000 for five to eight plants for the first year.
If the five plants that said they would apply for state inspection supported the inspection program alone, then each plant would have to pay an annual fee of about $84,000, according to the report.
The USDA inspection program is taxpayer funded, and there are no licensing or processing fees for a normal, 40-hour work week, Burson said. A state program would likely have to be funded through taxpayer support as well, he said.
Larson said he will wait for the state budget to improve before he reintroduces the state inspection program.
“With the state’s budget as it is and with it coming back costing the state that amount of money, I don’t think this year is the year to do it,” he said.
Even though the ban on horse slaughter has been lifted since the survey was conducted, Burson said he doesn’t think the lifting of the ban would have changed any survey responses.
“These people they’re not slaughtering horses right now,” he said. “They’re making their living on the normal livestock products that we would consume here in the U.S.” Horse meat has a very low value in the U.S., he added.
Creating a state program would be a large undertaking and would require a significant amount of money and effort, he said.
“For Nebraska to take on the task of adopting state meat inspection, there are so many elements in the regulations right now that it would be very difficult to get your hands clear around it within a short time period,” Burson said.