In 2006, Congress effectively banned horsemeat by forbidding the U.S. Department of Agriculture to spend money on inspecting slaughterhouses. Meat plants can’t operate without USDA inspection. The last three horse slaughterhouses in the United States (two in Texas and one in Illinois) closed in 2007, one year after the ban.
However, no federal law exists to block the transport of horses across American borders for slaughter in Canada or Mexico. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that more than 100,000 American horses are exported to Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses each year.
However, the Safeguard American Food Exports or SAFE Act, with bipartisan support in Congress, would “permanently ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption” and “prohibit the export of live horses to Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses to be sold overseas.” This bill has been introduced this year and we hope for its passage.
Congress has just lifted its ban on horse meat (individual state bans may still be in effect). Continuing its zig-zag and flip-flop pattern when it comes to food and nutrition, and after launching campaigns to eat more fruits and vegetables, Congress gave us just what we don’t need – yet another source of saturated fat and cholesterol-laden meat.
While horse meat is murder on our arteries, it isn’t doing the horse any favors either. Apologists for the new law try to say it’s better for the horses, by giving older and abandoned horses a more dignified end. Our friends at the Humane Society of the United States refute this with a solid review of the facts.
Some people try to claim that a ban on horse slaughter leads to an increase in unwanted older horses, or abuse and neglect of sick horses in need of veterinary care. However, USDA statistics show that more than 92 percent of horses slaughtered are in good condition and able to live productive lives. In California, where horse slaughter has been banned since 1998, there has been no corresponding rise in cruelty and neglect cases, while horse theft dropped by 34 percent after the ban. In Illinois, when the plant was shut down for two years, horse neglect and abuse decreased in the state. Allowing one’s horse to starve is not an option in any state—state anti-cruelty laws prohibit such neglect. Most horses which go to slaughter are not unwanted, but rather wind up in the hands of killer buyers because they are in good health and will bring a better price per pound for their meat.
Other proponents of horse meat claim that many U.S. horses are being sent to slaughterhouses across the border and that American plants are a better option. However, the plants in the U.S. have all been prohibited from slaughtering horses for good reason. Undercover footage from inside these horse slaughter facilities in the U.S. demonstrated how horrific these plants were. Slaughter is not euthanasia – it is a brutal and terrifying end for horses. We should not allow our horses to be subjected to this tremendous cruelty inside or outside of our borders.
While horse meat would have a long way to go to displace beef here in America, it has experienced increasing popularity in both Europe and Asia, so most of the horses will be raised and slaughtered for export. But there is still hope. Bipartisan bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate that would end horse slaughter. U.S. Reps. Dan Burton, R-Ind., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., have introduced H.R. 2966, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011, a bipartisan measure that will end the export and inhumane killing of American horses for human consumption across our borders. The bill was introduced in the House with 57 original co-sponsors. A Senate version, bill S. 1176, was introduced in June by U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and now has 24 co-sponsors.
In the meantime, the best way to save the horses, or any farmed animal, is a healthy and delicious vegetarian food choice. In doing so, you’ll not only be giving yourself a much healthier meal, but you’ll also be saving these and other beautiful creatures from the grim realities of the slaughterhouse. It’s win-win all around.