HELENA, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Max Baucus says Congress is moving closer to allowing U.S. horses to be slaughtered primarily for their meat with a move that allows inspections of the facilities.

The Democratic senator has been backing an idea to allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to again start inspecting horse slaughter plants. The ban on inspections dates back to 2006 and effectively resulted in a ban on domestic horse slaughter and the processing of horse meat, which is considered a delicacy in some overseas markets.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday passed an agricultural spending bill that would allow inspection of slaughtered horses, which is needed to ship meat and animal byproducts across state borders.

Baucus said he is making sure that language stays intact as the appropriation process continues.

A Government Accountability Office study found that the horse slaughter ban has resulted in a shift of the market to Canada and Mexico, Baucus noted. It also has resulted in lower horse prices and strained local animal welfare agencies that are now dealing with more cases of horse abandonment.

"We've seen some pretty shocking cases across Montana of horse abandonment and neglect as owners face tough economic times," Baucus said in a statement. "This ban is a part of the problem and has resulted in the inhumane treatment of injured and sick horses along with hurting the economy. We have an opportunity here to do the right thing for our farmers and ranchers while improving the welfare of horses."

The Montana Legislature in 2009 passed a new law that aimed to court the construction of a horse slaughter plant in Montana, a law prompted by complaints from ranchers and agriculture interests. But no slaughter plant has ever been built, in part because the USDA inspection ban would prevent horse meat from being exported outside Montana.