A diverse group including politicians, animal welfare organizations, veterinarians, and equestrians have joined together to stop the slaughter of American horses.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Reps. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., will introduce federal legislation to ban the killing of horses for human consumption and prohibit the transport of horses across the U.S. border for slaughter. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Animal Welfare Institute, Humane Society Legislative Fund, veterinarian Dr. Nick Dodman and 17-year-old equestrian Brittany Wallace will join the members of Congress as they announce the bills on March 13.
If successful, the legislation would prohibit horse slaughter operations in the U.S., end the current export and slaughter of more than 160,000 American horses abroad each year, and protect toxic horse meat from entering the nation's food supply.
The last plant that slaughtered horse meat for human consumption in the United States closed in 2007, after Congressional approval of an appropriations bill that included a rider forbidding the U.S.D.A. from financing the inspection of such meat. Lack of inspections effectively stopped horses from being slaughtered in the U.S. The rider was renewed in subsequent appropriations bills until 2011, when Congress quietly removed it from an omnibus spending act.
That opened the door for a renewal of the horse slaughter business, but only if the U.S.D.A. re-established inspections. The agency has not made any plans to restart its equine inspection service and since the ban was lifted, no horse slaughterhouses have successfully opened.
However, last fall the Valley Meat Company sued the U.S.D.A. and its Food Safety and Inspection Service last fall over the lack of inspection services for horses going to slaughter. The company cannot process horse meat for human consumption at its Roswell, N.M. plant, without inspection by the U.S.D.A. The horse meat would then be shipped to Europe, Scandinavia, and Japan.
Even so, the European market may not be the profit magnet that the slaughter industry is hoping for. Horse meat is not widely consumed in Europe. It is considered a specialty meat and in several countries, such as Britain, the meat is considered taboo.
And the recent discovery of horse DNA in a number of popular European food products created a scandal that has rocked Europe's food industry, and set off waves of consumer anger.
In America, there are significant health considerations regarding American horse meat. Horses in the U.S. are not raised for food, but for pleasure and sport. American horses are frequently treated with phenylbutazone, a common anti-inflammatory pain killer which is banned for animals intended for eventual human consumption. This means that most American horse meat cannot be consumed or sold for the plate.
Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of The Humane Society of the United States, said,
The global horse meat trade, by its very nature, cannot meet these standards [for safety]. And now is a good time for the authorities in North America and Europe to eliminate trade in animals unsuitable for the dinner table.
Additionally, horses are considered iconic animals here, and American consumers are overwhelmingly repulsed by the idea of consuming horse meat. According to Nancy Perry, a senior vice president at the ASPCA, the vast majority of Americans - a staggering 80 percent, according to a recent ASPCA poll - oppose the practice.
After the last horse slaughter plant closed, U.S. horse buyers began shipping animals to Canada and Mexico for slaughter. According to the HSUS, and estimated 160,000 American horses are exported each year for slaughter.
In an editorial on the Horse Welfare Alliance of Canada website, a group that supports horse slaughter, James Laws, Canadian Meat Council executive director, said Canada exported $83 million worth of horsemeat in 2011. Although Canada exports horse meat from its own horses, the bulk of its horse meat supply comes from America.
The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, as the pending legislation is called, would not only ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the U.S. but would also prohibit shipping horses outside the U.S. for food slaughter. Unlike the appropriations rider that had prevented horse slaughter until now, the statutory ban would not expire.
“Horses sent to slaughter are often subject to appalling, brutal treatment,” Schakowsky said in an email statement to ABC News. “We must fight those practices. The Safeguard American Food Exports Act of 2013 will ensure that these majestic animals are treated with the respect they deserve.”