The US Congress has lifted a ban on using Federal funds for horse meat inspection, paving the way for horses to again be slaughtered in the U.S. for human consumption. Animal rights groups are protesting the decision.

In 2006, activists, in a compromise move, had pushed a measure stopping funding for horse meat inspection in place of the outright ban they were unable to secure. Since the law requires that meat must be inspected before being used as food, horse slaughter operations were forced to shut down.

But with Congress having lifted the ban, animal rights activists are warning that horse slaughterhouses will begin springing up in the next few months. Meanwhile, USDA has said it will begin conducting the inspection of horse meat in slaughterhouses. There is no US market for the human consumption of horse meat. But it is considered a delicacy overseas in some European and Asian countries. It has, however, been used to feed North American zoo animals.

Farmers and some policy-makers say the ban resulted in more horses being abandoned and neglected. A study, released in June of this year, concluded that the slaughter of American horses didn’t stop because of the ban, it simply shifted to Mexico and Canada. Nearly the same number of horses was transported to Mexico and Canada in 2010 – approximately 138,000 – as was slaughtered before the ban in the US. The Government Accountability Office report also noted that comprehensive data on abandonment and neglect was not available, however, state and local governments, along with welfare groups, reported an increase in investigations of such incidents since 2007. The agency recommended that Congress should either reconsider restrictions on the use of federal funds for inspection or to ban horse slaughter outright. The Humane Society of the United States and other groups believe the repeal will prompt renewed interest in the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (2011), which would ban the interstate transport and live export of horses for slaughter for human consumption. The bill was introduced earlier this year.