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Could Congress put horsemeat back on the menu in America?

You wouldn’t eat this pony … or would you? (Daniel Bockwoldt/DPA via AP)

It’s taboo to eat horse in America. Anyone who wants to kill horses for human consumption in the United States will face plenty of legal obstacles — one of the biggest being Congress’ ban on Department of Agriculture funding for horsemeat inspections. It’s illegal to sell, serve, or distribute meat that hasn’t been inspected. But that may soon change: A panel in the House of Representatives has voted to lift restrictions on horse slaughter for meat.

The amendment that banned funding for horsemeat inspections, which was tacked on to the annual USDA funding bill, was voted down 27 to 25 by the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. It’s not the first time American horses have been threatened this year — in May, President Trump’s 2018 fiscal budget proposed euthanizing or selling wild horses so the Bureau of Land Management can save money on their care.

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The three U.S. slaughterhouses that dealt in horse closed in 2007, according to the New Food Economy. Horses in the United States can be sold and shipped to other countries, where it is legal to slaughter them for food. Elsewhere in the world, eating horse is more common — it’s considered a delicacy in Japan, where it can be served as sashimi, and it is also served in Belgium, Iceland, Norway, Slovenia and parts of Italy, among other countries.

Horsemeat has been the subject of several high-profile incidents in recent years. Four years ago in Europe, Ikea meatballs were found to contain horse DNA, sparking a huge public relations crisis for the Swedish furniture company, which operates cafes. (“Ikea meatballs? Neigh it ain’t so,” tweeted the Australian columnist Martin McKenzie-Murray.) In May, the Pittsburgh restaurant Cure — whose chef, Justin Severino, has been a James Beard Awards Best Chef semifinalist for the last four years — was reprimanded by the USDA for serving horse on a tasting menu. The horse tartare was part of a collaborative dinner with a Toronto chef, and Severino said that the traditional Quebecois dish was sourced from an Alberta horse farm, where horsemeat is legal. According to the Toronto Sun, Canada is the world leader in the production of horsemeat.

Expect animal rights activists to fight this tooth and nail. The Humane Society of the United States reports that horse slaughter can be more brutal and result in more suffering for the animal, because it is difficult to stun horses before they are killed.

“We don’t pick up homeless dogs and cats and send them to slaughterhouses. We shouldn’t do that with horses either,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS, in a statement.

However, one of the reasons that Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) cast the decisive vote was because he said slaughterhouses in Mexico and other countries, which buy American horses, are even more grim.

“The reality is, if these horses are not dealt with in USDA certified and inspected facilities, they will be hauled off to a foreign market where the conditions are much more cruel and less humane,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement to the Miami Herald.

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However, as the New Food Economy reports, bringing back American horsemeat faces significant challenges. The funding bill still needs to pass in the House, and the ban could be reinserted. Another bill, the Safeguard American Food Exports Act, could ban both domestic horse slaughter and selling horses to foreign slaughterhouses. So, it’s unlikely anyone in the United States will be eating horse cheeseburgers this time next year.

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Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that it is illegal to sell meat that has not been inspected in the U.S.