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End of a ban on slaughterhouse inspections could have gourmands horsing around

Former Westword critic Jason Sheehan was interested in trying horsemeat, "considered a staple in France, a delicacy in Japan and a treat among Italian, Dutch and Belgians." But he couldn't find a source in this country -- and then in 2006, Congress banned funding of horse-meat inspections, essentially eliminating any possibility that the meat would become available in this country.

According to the USDA, there are currently no slaughterhouses in this country that butcher horses for human consumption -- but two weeks ago Congress lifted the five-year-old ban on funding inspections, and activists worry that horse slaughterhouses could be back in business within the month.

Here's what Jason Sheehan wrote about horsemeat before that ban was passed:

Horsemeat was on everyone's minds July 25, 2006, when a House Trade and Consumer Protection subcommittee got to debate H.R. 503, better known as the "American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act."

There are currently three foreign-owned processing facilities in the United States -- two in Texas and one in Illinois -- that slaughter, process and ship horsemeat overseas for human consumption, working their way through about 90,000 horses a year. But the horse that really brought this to everyone's attention was 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand, who in 2002 ended up on a killing floor in Japan -- where, I assume, he got turned into tasty, tasty horse burgers.

At the hearing, spokespeople for the $60 million-a-year horsemeat industry argued that they provide a necessary (and yummy) service in the disposal of all these horses. On the other side of the debate, though, is everyone else in the entire country, who -- for reasons totally beyond me -- thinks that horses deserve some kind of special protection from the slaughterhouse and shouldn't be eaten, no matter how delicious they might be.

To anyone who's read this column before, it should be fairly obvious on which side of this issue I come down. I'm not guilt-stricken over being at the top of the food chain (or near the top, anyway -- with sharks, zombies and wolfmen having just the slightest environmental advantage), and if you're slower, dumber or more delicious than me? Sorry. You're lunch. And I'm even slightly pissed off that I can't get horsemeat here in the States. Oh, sure, I can get horse in the form of glue. I can get it to feed to my dog, my piranha, my pet hyena, whatever. But I can't get it at a restaurant, and -- as far as I was able to determine in one afternoon's research -- I can't even get it shipped to me to cook myself.

This bugs me. Not just because I'm curious to try something that's considered a staple in France, a delicacy in Japan and a treat among Italian, Dutch and Belgian connoisseurs, but because our government (which really should be spending its time worrying about other things) is once again getting involved in moral legislation. If you don't cotton to the idea of eating some nice, juicy horse tartare, that's fine; don't eat it. And feel confident knowing that you are in the company of probably 99.9 percent of your countrymen (and women), who would also never think of chowing down on cheval. But to make it a crime to process, pack or ship horsemeat for human consumption? Just another example of prohibiting something because a group of people finds it personally offensive.

Fortunately, most bills never make it out of committee, and a bill similar to this one (H.R. 857, introduced in 2003) died without a vote. Which is as it should be, since legislating a cultural taboo is a tricky thing (once you start, where do you stop?) and, in this case, totally unnecessary, since no one in this country -- except me, I guess -- was ever looking to take a bite out of Mr. Ed in the first place.

Could be time to sharpen your knife, Sheehan.


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