By Megan R. Wilson - 03/13/13 05:38 PM EDT
A bipartisan group of lawmakers in both chambers is introducing legislation to prohibit the slaughter of horses.
The bills, written by Reps. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), would stop the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from forming new regulations to inspect horse slaughterhouses in the U.S., a move that would clear the way for horse meat in stores.
“This is a bill whose time has come,” said Meehan at a press conference on Wednesday. “Until a ban is in place, every horse is just one bad sale away from being sent to slaughter.”
Animal rights activists joined lawmakers to promote the bills, which would ban slaughterhouses in the United States and stop the current practice of shipping the animals to Mexico or Canada for slaughter. Every year, 160,000 American horses are exported to slaughterhouses abroad, according to The Humane Society.
The members said the killing of horses for food is dangerous for humans, inhumane for the animals and it “rewards bad behavior,” added Chris Heyde, the deputy director of government and legal affairs for the Animal Welfare Institute.
The press conference was littered with stories of fraudsters that dupe horse owners into thinking they are giving their horse to a rescue organization, which then sells it at a so-called “kill auction.”
“These animals go from sales to slaughter in 24 hours to 48 hours. Nobody knows that slaughtering exists,” Heyde said.
Last month, the discovery of horse meat in ground beef in Europe tainted the image of some of the world’s largest companies, including Burger King, IKEA and Tesco.
Meehan said he feared risking consumer confidence of beef products if a horse meat ban is lifted in the U.S.
From 2007-2011, Congress attached language to spending bills that told the USDA it could not spend any funds on inspections of facilities that kill horses to be used as food, rendering the practice illegal. Since the language disappeared, the department has not renewed its inspection policies, something it says it has received requests from “several” companies to do.
The lawmakers said that they wanted this to travel through Congress in the traditional way, rather than continuing the rider practice. The House bill picked up 20 bipartisan co-sponsors on the first day of its introduction.
Landrieu said she would “seek any means appropriate” to get Congress to pass the legislation, which the lawmakers agreed is long overdue.
Drugs that animals are given during careers as racehorses are toxic to humans and remain in the meat after death, experts say.
Sarah Klein, a senior attorney at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the audience that there is “no public desire for horse meat." A national poll from January 2012, revealed that 80 percent of Americans opposed slaughtering horses.
“It goes beyond a food fraud issue as we’re seeing in Europe,” she said.
Proponents of horse slaughtering argue that it prevents abuse to horses that owners no longer want, but the bill's authors argued that the killing process is even more inhumane.
Heyde at the Animal Welfare Institute said he visited a plant in Texas when the U.S. still permitted horse slaughter. Photos received from a Freedom of Information Request to the USDA revealed gruesome images of horses mutilated and alive. Experts said that horses are often conscious as they are dismembered.
“If this is how we regulate, then we are not doing a good job with this industry,” he said.