The debate over the reopening of horse slaughter plants in the United States has been settled for now. Congress has eliminated funding for federal inspectors inside horse slaughter facilities.

"Without federal oversight or approval, this industry can't operate," said Chris Heyde with the Animal Welfare Institute.

Heyde says the focus is now shifted toward passage of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) act that would stop the export of horses to Canada or Mexico for slaughter. This would impact one of the largest horse auctions in the country, which is located about 75 miles south of Cleveland in Sugarcreek.

Heyde described Sugarcreek as one of the biggest suppliers of horses to slaughter.

Animal rights groups have criticized the auction house for its handling of horses, accusing workers of abuse and neglect while the animals wait to be sold to the highest bidder.

Last April, the group calling itself Animals' Angels found Sugarcreek inappropriately accepted a badly-injured horse from Michigan to be sold at auction. The horse had a wound so deep that the bone on its leg could be seen. The group criticized auction workers for failing to help the horse until six hours after they were notified of the injury. Phone calls to auction owner LeRoy Baker were not returned.

Despite the delayed response to the injured horse and some overcrowding issues, the animal rights group says Sugarcreek has done a better job of handling horses since a Channel 3 news investigation five years ago.

While horses can't be butchered in the U.S., they can still be hauled to Mexico and Canada to be slaughtered. In Mexico, some workers were found to be killing horses by jabbing them repeatedly in their spinal cord with a knife. It's not known if that practice continues today.

Animal rights groups are feeling confident that Congress will eventually place a permanent ban on the export of horses to other countries.

"Everyone now wants a permanent solution to shutting this industry down, and that is why we are committed to getting the SAFE act passed," said Heyde.

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