The introduction of bipartisan legislation seeking an end to the slaughter of American horses has been applauded by US welfare groups.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Animal Welfare Institute, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Center for Science in the Public Interest applauded the move by Senators Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-SC, and Representatives Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.
Their Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act would not only prevent the slaughter of horses on US soil for human consumption, but would also prohibit the transport of horses across the border for slaughter in Canada and Mexico.
Last year, more than 160,000 American horses were sent to slaughter plants in Mexico and Canada.
The group pointed to the risks posed by several drugs used routinely in the treatment of horses that are banned from the human food chain.
Last week, the US Department of Agriculture announced its plan to process an application for inspecting horse slaughter at a New Mexico facility.
If approved, Valley Meat Company LLC will be the first facility in the US to slaughter horses for human consumption since 2007.
News of the plans for a new slaughter plant comes as authorities in Europe are unravelling multiple cases of horse meat contaminating processed beef products.
Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA government relations, said: “The overwhelming majority of Americans are intensely opposed to the cruel practice of horse slaughter, and we thank the sponsors of the SAFE Act for their efforts to protect not only public health, but also safeguard our nation’s equines.
“The shocking discovery of horse meat in mislabeled beef products across Europe underscores the threat to American health that could result should horse slaughter proponents be successful in bringing this grisly practice back to the United States.
“Now is the time for Congress to permanently ban domestic horse slaughter and the export of our horses to neighboring countries for slaughter. We must prevent even one more horse from suffering this terrible fate.”
Chris Heyde, deputy director of government and legal affairs for AWI, said: “When AWI first brought this issue to Congress and the American public, horse slaughter was a dirty practice that no responsible horse owner wanted to admit even existed.
“While the issue is now in the public eye, no-one who cares about horses thinks it is humane to slaughter them.
“The only individuals advocating for horse slaughter are those who profit from the suffering of these amazing animals. Like the industry they protect, deception is key. They are willing to mislead and deceive anyone who advocates for the welfare of American horses.
“I want them to know today, that everyone supporting the bill will not stop fighting against this cruelty until all of our horses are safe from slaughter.”
HSUS president and chief executive Wayne Pacelle said the arguments of the horse-meat industry were unraveling before the eyes of the world.
“Congress must take action to prevent the spending of millions of American tax dollars on a marginal industry that peddles tainted horse meat to foreign consumers and seeks to do so at home, too.”
Sarah Klein, senior attorney in the food safety program at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said American horses were not raised for food and should not wind up on consumers’ plates.
“Horse meat often carries residues from drugs that are not safe for consumers.”
Representative Meehan said: “Horses are not bred for human consumption. Horses are routinely treated with drugs over the course of their lifetimes that are toxic to humans if ingested.
“At a time when the US Department of Agriculture is threatening to furlough meat inspectors due to budget cuts, American taxpayers should not be subsidizing horse meat inspections for the foreign export market.”
Representative Schakowsky said horses sent to slaughter were often subject to appalling, brutal treatment. “We must fight those practices. The SAFE Act of 2013 will ensure that these majestic animals are treated with the respect they deserve.”
Senator Landrieu agreed. “The practice of horse slaughter for human consumption is revolting to me as a horse owner, but also as a consumer.
“Horses are not raised for human consumption, and they are frequently treated with drugs and chemicals that are toxic when ingested by humans.
“Especially in light of the European horse-meat contamination scandals, we must ensure that our food supply at home is not tainted with horse meat, nor should we supply an unsafe food product to foreign industries.”
Past congressional actions on horse slaughter have demonstrated a strong, bipartisan desire to prohibit the killing of horses for human consumption, but Congress has failed to permanently end the export of live horses to neighboring countries for slaughter.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times has called in an editorial for Congress to reinstate the ban on funding horse meat inspections.
“Congress should reinstate the ban on funding such inspections, for several reasons,” it said.
“In this country, horses are not raised as food animals, with the sort of controls and restrictions in place for cattle, poultry and swine destined for our tables.
“Currently, horses that are bought here to be sold to processing plants in Mexico and Canada are acquired from random sources, aggregated at feedlots or ranches, and then shipped to slaughter. They have not been tracked from birth, as cattle and pigs are.
“In addition, the horses have usually been treated over their lifetimes with a vast array of drugs, the most common of which is the pain reliever phenylbutazone, a substance the US Food and Drug Administration stipulates can never be administered to animals processed for food.
“Furthermore, for horse meat plants to resume operating, the Department of Agriculture would have to train and deploy inspectors at a time when its meat inspection budget is being cut by the sequestration.
“And there is another reason. For centuries, horses have been our companions in life and in sport, and most Americans find the notion of killing horses to eat them repugnant. Horse meat isn’t even used in dog food any longer because dog owners won’t buy it.”