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Agribiz: Agriculture exports, imports forecast at record level
Horse slaughter plant opens in New Mexico
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Agriculture is the largest industry in the country and the pulse of the economy can generally be gauged by how well the industry is functioning.

It looks like it will be a better year for agriculture as the economy strengthens.

U.S. fiscal year 2013 (October 2012-September 2013) agricultural exports are forecast at a record $139.5 billion, $3.7 billion above fiscal year 2012 exports and $2.1 billion above the fiscal year 2011 record.

U.S. agricultural imports are forecast at a record of $111 billion in fiscal 2013, $7.6 billion above the previous record in fiscal 2012.

Stronger global gross domestic product growth and robust demand in China and developing countries in Asia, Latin America and North Africa are expected to boost export demand for U.S. products, offsetting the effects of a stronger U.S. dollar.

The 8 percent increase in U.S. agricultural imports forecast for FY13 is driven by a combination of a relatively strong 3.2 percent increase in personal disposable incomes in the year through March, combined with the strengthening of the U.S. dollar.

U.S. agricultural import growth is forecast to be broad-based, with relatively large increases forecast in major import categories, including fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, and livestock and meat products.

Horse slaughter plant opens for business

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has given a New Mexico plant the go-ahead to begin slaughtering horses and likely will issue similar permits to plants in Missouri and Iowa, according to Reuters.

Slaughtering horses for meat has been a hotly debated issue for more than a year, as the closed cattle processing plant in New Mexico attempted to switch to horses, both houses of Congress moved to prohibit equine slaughter, and Oklahoma overturned a 50-year-old state law banning the practice.

“Valley Meat Co. is encouraged that after well over a year of delay that the process has finally reached completion,” the company said in a news release on Friday. “Valley will now begin final preparation to hire 40 to 100 employees over the coming weeks and months so that they may go to work providing a humanely harvested, safe, legally compliant product to the world markets.”

Horse meat cannot be sold as food in the United States, but it can be exported to countries such as France, China and Russia, where horse meat is more common.

Animal rights groups oppose slaughtering horses, as do some members of Congress. Lawmakers essentially banned the practice of slaughtering horses for meat in 2006, by denying the USDA any money for inspectors, but the prohibition expired in fall 2011. Congress could once again refuse to fund inspectors for horse slaughterhouses as part of USDA appropriations, but that decision could be months away.

That left USDA little leeway to deny a permit to Valley Meats, a spokeswoman for the agency said.

Those who support loosening state and federal laws on horse slaughter say it’s cruel to ship horses to Mexico and Canada for slaughter and that banning humane slaughter leaves owners with few options if they can no longer afford proper care for a horse. Some 166,000 horses were shipped from the U.S. to Mexico and Canada in 2012 for slaughter, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Opponents, such as the Humane Society of the United States and Front Range Equine Rescue, argue that horses are not intended for human consumption, so they are given medications that food-source livestock would not receive. The USDA said it can test for residues of 130 pesticides and veterinary drugs.

Lawmakers could vote on reinstating the ban in coming weeks when the USDA appropriations bills are debated in the House and Senate. But no date has been set to consider the bills and it could be months before work is completed.

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, which would specifically prohibit slaughtering horses for food, was filed in 2011. The bill is sponsored by U.S. Reps. Dan Burton, R-Ind., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., in the House and by Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in the Senate.

USDA conducts tests on domestic and imported products to determine whether meat is beef, sheep, swine, poultry, deer or horse. The agency stepped up its species testing in April after a European scandal in which unsuspecting buyers received horse meat in food they bought from an online retailer.


Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, His column appears biweekly on Thursday’s Business page and at