At issue is a ban, first enacted in 2006, that prevented the U.S. Department of Agriculture from using federal funds to inspect any meat processing plants that slaughter horses. Plants that are not inspected by the USDA cannot ship meat across state lines, so the provision effectively ended domestic horse slaughter.
There is not a market here in the United States for the human consumption of horse meat.
But overseas it is seen as a delicacy, especially in some European and Asian countries.
Horse meat has been used in the U.S. to feed zoo animals, because it's a good source of protein.
It has also been used in pet food.
Currently, there are no horse slaughterhouses in the U.S.
If that were to change, the USDA assured it would conduct the appropriate inspections to ensure humane methods of handling the animals and humane slaughter in a statement.
While horses could soon be legally butchered, no money was actually allocated for horse meat inspections in the bill.
The Humane Society has already published a Horse Slaughter Petition Act on its Web site, writing: "Horses in America are not raised as food animals; they are companions and the very symbols of our freedom. When horse slaughter did exist in the United States, USDA documentation confirms that it was a bloody and terrifying process."
But in a unexpected twist, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is in favor of the USDA's decision, supporting domestic horse slaughtering instead of shipping horses to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.
Farmers and some policymakers say the ban resulted in old horses being abandoned and neglected. In response, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., successfully pushed for a provision requiring the non-partisan Government Accountability Office to study the impact of the ban.
The GAO study, released in June, highlighted the concerns of Baucus and others.
Lawmakers in California and Illinois have banned the slaughter of horses for human consumption, and more than a dozen states tightly regulate the sale of horse meat.