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.
Today, the slaughter pipeline begins with at-risk horses who are sent to livestock auctions across the U.S. At these auctions, middlemen for foreign-owned slaughter plants, known as “kill buyers,” purchase healthy horses that they believe will bring the best price per pound. Kill buyers often bid against horse rescues and legitimate prospective owners, robbing these horses of a second chance at life. Sometimes kill buyers even pose as legitimate horse rescues or dealers, and trick owners into believing their horses are going to be adopted, not sold into slaughter.
After being sold to kill buyers, these horses are trucked to Canada and Mexico where they are slaughtered for their meat. Many horses suffer terrible injuries during long distance transport. At the slaughter plant, horses rarely experience quick, painless deaths due to their anatomy and instinctual flight response to danger. When horse slaughter existed in the U.S., the U.S. Department of Agriculture documented serious abuses, both in transport and at the slaughter plants. Conditions today at the slaughter plants abroad and during transport are similar.
It seems that most Americans feel an emotional connection to horses. Polls asking whether horse meat should be banned suggest around 80 percent of people are against eating it. There is no way to make horse slaughter humane. The slaughtering of horses for meat is already illegal in America. Now, let’s take the next step and make exporting horses for slaughter to other countries illegal as well.