A coalition of animal rights groups and people who live near the nation's three horse slaughter plants sued Tuesday to prevent the Agriculture Department from providing horse meat inspections for a fee.

The groups alleged that USDA's plans to provide the inspections next month violates a law passed as part of the 2006 agriculture spending bill signed by President Bush.

In that legislation, Congress cut funding for salaries and expenses of horse meat inspectors.

The plants have contended the law will cost jobs and economic benefits. The plants slaughter horses for the meat, which is consumed in Europe and Asia and used in some zoos.

Two of the plants are in Texas — Fort Worth-based Beltex Corp. and Dallas Crown Inc., based in Kaufman. The third plant, Cavel International Inc. is based in DeKalb, Ill.

The House and Senate voted overwhelmingly last year for the provision cutting off money for the horse meat inspectors. The measure was a crafted by its sponsors as a way to end horse slaughter, after other efforts to pass outright bans had failed in previous years.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, said USDA is subverting the law to appease the horse slaughter industry.

"Americans want horses treated with dignity and respect, not served up on a plate in Belgium or France. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is rewriting the rules as if the views of the Congress and the American people don't even exist," Pacelle said in a statement.

A USDA spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.

Along with the Humane Society of the United States, plaintiffs in the suit filed in federal court in Washington are the Animal Welfare Institute, The Fund for Animals, Society for Animal Protective Legislation, Doris Day Animal League, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and American Humane Association.

The groups said citizens affected by reduced property values, smell from the plant and "horses' cries as they enter the kill chute," also are plaintiffs. Their names were not immediately available.