ABILENE, Texas -- To Cheryl Moore, co-owner of the Stephenville Cattle Co. sales barn here, when horse slaughter ceased in the United States five years ago, legislators took an entire industry hostage.
"They held us captive to foreign countries -- Mexico and Canada," she said.
Congress quietly lifted a ban on funding horsemeat inspections, which means horses could be butchered again in the U.S. for human consumption.
Congress lifted the ban in a spending bill President Barack Obama signed into law Nov. 18, but there is no new money to pay for horse meat inspections, which opponents say could cost taxpayers up to $5 million a year.
Moore supports the potentially lucrative business' return to American soil.
"It's the best opportunity we've had in a long time," she said about the industry's potential reinstatement. "What kind of stupidity takes a multibillion dollar industry and gives it to a foreign country? That's what kind of congressmen we have."
Some see the question as one of personal property rights, while opponents cite both humanitarian concerns and criticisms of the process itself, which they argue is both messy and cruel.
To former Rep. Charles Stenholm, the change represents a victory and an "opportunity now for the horse industry to start growing again" after a period of downsizing.
Five states currently are looking at making the necessary investments to restart the horse slaughter industry, he said.
"Within six months to a year, you're looking at 1,000 jobs being created" nationwide, said Stenholm, who has worked as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., to, among other goals, reopen the horse slaughter industry.
But those jobs, he said, may not be in Texas, which has laws that prohibit horses being processed for human consumption.
"We are looking at the possibility that Texas law is now superseded by federal law," Stenholm said.
If not, the issue can't be taken up by the Texas Legislature until it meets again in 2013, he said.
Stenholm said that horse owners who are against the idea of processing the animals were not inherently wrong.
"To those horse owners who disagree with me and the industry on this, we respect their view," he said. "If you have a horse and do not wish it to be processed for human consumption, then we're for you."
But others who own the animals should have the opportunity to "receive value" from an unwanted or ill horse if they choose, he argued.
And echoing an argument made by many who approve of the option, Stenholm said that the fate of many horses otherwise will be mistreatment and neglect.
Craig Griffis with the Taylor County Sheriff's Office here said the report's findings mirror his own recent anecdotal experience.
Removal of the option to send the animals to slaughter created a somewhat "perfect storm," he said, especially when accompanied by long-lasting drought conditions and the ongoing recession, which struck just as slaughtering stopped nationally.
"When people get in a situation where they've having trouble feeding themselves and their children, the animals are often the first thing that get neglected," Griffis said. "You can't get anything for them, and it's getting more and more difficult to give them away to people who might want to adopt them."
Diana Shaffner of Rising sun Ranch, a horse sanctuary outside Abilene, put particular blame on "backyard breeders" for surplus horse populations, adding that regulation to cut numbers would be ideal.
"I think it's a dilemma," said Shaffner, who noted that the ranch maintains 12 horses on 35 acres. "Unless there is legislation that prevents senseless breeding, there is no way to put an end to slaughter here or in Mexico. I personally don't think anything like regulating breeding is ever going to happen, but that's really the root of the problem and what needs to be attacked."