NM Attorney General Says Horse Slaughter “Illegal”

camargueNew Mexico Attorney General Gary King says that horse meat fitting the legal definition of an adulterated food product under the NM Food Act may not be manufactured, sold, or delivered anywhere in New Mexico, regardless of where the food is ultimately sold or consumed.

“Our legal analysis concludes that state law does not allow for production of meat that is chemically tainted under federal regulations,” says Attorney General King. “New Mexico law is very clear that it would be prohibited and illegal.”

The analysis is in response to a request for advice by NM State Senator Richard Martinez, of Española. A letter to Senator Martinez states: “Based on our examination of the relevant constitutional, statutory and case law authorities, and the information available to us at this time, we conclude horse meat from U.S. horses would fit the legal definition of an adulterated food product under the NM Food Act if the meat came from horses that had been treated with chemical substances that the federal Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has deemed unfit for human consumption. We also conclude that if horse meat were an adulterated food product, the NM Food Act would prohibit its manufacture, sale or delivery.”

The Attorney General’s analysis cites, in particular, a 2010 study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology,”In 2010, the scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology published an article titled “Association of phenylbutazone usage with horses brought for slaughter: A public health risk.” Ann Marini, Nicholas Dodman, & Nicolas Blondeau, Association of phenylbutazone usage with horses brought for slaughter: A public health risk, 48 Food and Chemical Toxicology 1270 (2010).

The study states: “Phenylbutazone (PBZ) was marketed in the United States for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and gout in 1952. Serious and often fatal adverse effects such as aplastic anemia and agranulocytosis appeared in the literature within three years of its use.” Id. at 1270. The study states: “Because of the bone marrow toxicity caused by PBZ in humans, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set no safe levels of PBZ in animals intended for food” and “bans the administration of this drug in any horse sent to slaughter for human consumption.” Id.; see also 21 CFR § 1720d (2003) (FDA regulation prohibiting use of PBZ “in horses intended for food”).

The study attempted to track sixty-eight American race horses that were scheduled, or sent, to “American or international slaughter houses from 2004 to 2008.” See id. at 1271. The study was able to obtain health records for thirty-four of the horses. PBZ (bute) is “the most widely used” anti- inflammatory drug given to race horses. See id. at 1270. The study found that all thirty-four horses, including all of the horses that were actually sent to a slaughter houses, had “a positive history of PBZ administration.” Id. at 1271. The data shows “the time interval from the last known dose of PBZ to the animal being bought for slaughter varies from about one week to four years. In [the] study, four years may be a safe withdrawal time since a horse was given PBZ prior to being sent to slaughter. However, the FDA does not allow any use of PBZ in horses destined for human consumption and neither does the United Kingdom (UK) or the European Union (EU) regardless of withdrawal time.” Id. at 1272. The study also noted that: “Domestic horses may need medications to treat bacterial or viral infections… parasitic infections and certain vaccines are also required by law. Many of the drugs used to treat … [these] illnesses are also banned if the animal is sent to slaughter for human consumption.” Id. at 1273.

The study concludes: “the FDA, like the EU and UK, specifically bans the use of PBZ in any horse destined for slaughter for human consumption. Yet, this ban is being circumvented because there is no pre-slaughter mechanism to determine and remove horses that receive PBZ during”their lifetime.” Id. at 1273.1 “The lack of oversight to prevent horses given PBZ from being sent to slaughter for human consumption … indicates a serious gap in food safety and constitutes a significant public health risk….” Id.”

The USDA was set to approve the Valley Meat Co., a New Mexico based company, for horse slaughter, the first since horse slaughter became legal again as a result of an appropriations measure enacted in October, 2011. The company may need to look elsewhere. New Mexico’s governor, Susana Martinez, and other state officials have also opposed the plans for a horse slaughter facility in the state.

Humane groups have also filed petitions with the FDA and USDA to block slaughter of some horses for human consumption on the bases they are not qualified under FDA regulations and should be “U.S. condemned” by the USDA.

The Obama administration has included in its FY 2014 USDA budget a plan to de-fund required inspections of horses sent for slaughter. This would mean horses could not be slaughtered for human consumption in the U.S. There is also legislation pending in Congress to prohibit slaughter of any horse for human consumption. A primary concern is that horses in the U.S. are not raised for human consumption; they are given all manner of drugs, steroids, ointments and the like that are not approved for use in animals used for food.

Download a copy of the Attorney General’s letter here.