A bill that would permanently prohibit horse slaughter in the United States and prevent equines being exported to abattoirs across the border has been reintroduced to Congress.
The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act was introduced to the House of Representatives by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) to end what one charity described as greed-driven cruelty to horses.
Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) are expected to introduce a similar bill in the Senate soon.
The bill is supported by leading animal welfare groups, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Animal Welfare Institute, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the Humane Society Legislative Fund, and Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation.
It is the latest move in the long-running battle in the US to end the slaughter of American horses.
Horse slaughterhouses have been prevented from operating on American soil in recent years due to legislators refusing to allow federal cash to be spent on the inspections required to allow the plants to operate.
However, this requires defunding language to be including in appropriate budget legislation each year, meaning ongoing lobbying to ensure plants remain shuttered.
Now, legislators have renewed the push for a permanent ban on the slaughter industry on US soil, and to end the export of horses for slaughter north and south of the US border.
In recent years, the number of American horses shipped to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered for human consumption in foreign countries has dropped.
This has been due mainly to the lack of medication records, which are required for major markets such as the European Union. Certain drugs are banned from entering the human food chain, and medication records for US horses, raised for riding rather than slaughter, struggle to satisfy the requirements of key export markets.
However, tens of thousands of US horses are still exported for slaughter each year.
Backers of the bill see this as an opportune time for Congress to end the meat trade in US horses for good. They says the horses often endure grueling journeys to slaughter plants, packed in large trailers in unfamiliar herds. Some are injured as a consequence, and meet what many welfare advocates consider an inhumane end.
The two lawmakers who reintroduced the bill spoke of the need for change.
“Horses have a special place in our nation’s history, and these majestic creatures were not raised as food for humans,” Schakowsky said of the bill.
“The SAFE Act would prohibit any horse slaughter plant from opening; and also end the sale or transport of horses and horse parts in the US and abroad for the purpose of human consumption.”
Buchanan said: “The slaughter of horses for human consumption is a barbaric practice that has no place in America. I will continue to lead the effort with Congresswoman Schakowsky to ban domestic horse slaughter and end the export of horses abroad for slaughter.”
The ASPCA’s senior vice president of government relations, Nancy Perry, said the nonprofit group and its partners were heartened to see a massive increase in innovative programs to prevent at-risk horses from going to slaughter.
“But without the law as a backstop, horses will continue to suffer this fate regardless of how many we help.
“The vast majority of Americans oppose the brutal practice of horse slaughter, and we are grateful to Representatives Schakowsky and Buchanan for their steadfast commitment to ending this greed-driven cruelty to our horses.”
Animal Welfare Institute president Cathy Liss described Schakowsky and Buchanan as tremendous champions for animal welfare.
“Americans across the political spectrum want to see these noble animals protected from needless, gruesome and inhumane deaths. The SAFE Act would put a stop to the predatory and unsafe horse slaughter industry that butchers these animals for food.”
It would also protect consumers from the risks of American horse meat, which may contain drug residues.
Humane Society Legislative Fund president Sara Amundson said: “It is time to ban the slaughter of American horses for human consumption which will take horses off of dinner plates in foreign countries.
“Horses are iconic species in the lexicon of American history and treated as companion animals here.”
She commended Schakowsky and Buchanan for their leadership on the issue.
Neda DeMayo, who is president of Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation, said: “That more than 80,000 American horses – including an unknown number who once roamed freely on our public lands – are shipped to their deaths in foreign slaughterhouses each year is an unnecessary betrayal of the animals that helped us build our country and continue to serve humanity.”
She said her group applauded Schakowsky and Buchanan for recognizing the public’s overwhelming opposition to horse slaughter and continuing the bipartisan fight to end the trade.
The director of federal affairs for Animal Wellness Action, Holly Gann, said the slaughter industry delivered a series of traumatic events for horses “and ends with open-eyed terror for animals that deserve much better from us.”
“Toxic horse meat is anything but a legitimate American agriculture export. Congress should move quickly to protect our horses.”
Charities backing the bill are urging the public to contact their US representatives and urge them to co-sponsor the bill and facilitate its swift passage.