By Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) - 07/27/09 04:37 PM EDT
In keeping with American custom, we do not eat horsemeat or raise horses for slaughter. Yet almost 100,000 of our horses, many of them young and healthy, are brutally slaughtered every year. This includes our pleasure horses, workhorses, racehorses and wild horses. The reason? Their meat is considered a delicacy in Europe and Asia, and there is a small but powerful industry that is determined to meet this market demand. The vast majority of horse owners, breeders, and farmers would be horrified to know that their horses could meet such a gruesome fate. There is a better way
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and I have introduced the bipartisan Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act (S. 727). When enacted, it will close slaughterhouses here in America and stop the export for slaughter to Canada and Mexico. It would specifically prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling or donation of horses for human consumption. A person violating this law would be subjected to criminal and civil penalties, including being fined or imprisoned. Congressional and public support for an end to horse slaughter is substantial, and I am confident that we will move this legislation this session.
The need is dire. Although this practice has greatly subsided on U.S. soil, young and healthy horses continue to be shipped over our borders to meet foreign market demands. Shoved onto double-decker cattle trucks where they are unable to stand fully upright and deprived of food and water for long periods, the transport to slaughter is, in itself, horrific. Death shows no mercy either. In Mexico, some horses are literally stabbed into a state of paralysis before they are slaughtered alive, fully conscious.
Opponents of our bill suggest that we should reopen plants here where horse slaughter could be better regulated. However, there is simply no way to make horse slaughter a humane process. Not only is there no American market for horsemeat, but many communities would never tolerate such practice in their jurisdictions. It would also be nearly impossible and extremely expensive to develop a network of plants as we have for food animals in the U.S., forcing horses to be transported over long distances, incurring egregious injuries and dying en route
Opponents also claim that horses going to slaughter are old or infirm. However, evidence shows most horses going to slaughter are typically fit animals. According to the USDA, more than 92 percent of horses going to slaughter are sound, healthy horses. This only makes sense; the killer-buyers are looking for the healthiest, meatiest animals because these are the horses that will generate the greatest profit, which is measured by price per pound
Opponents also claim that the roughly 100,000 horses that go to slaughter every year will flood our fields or be left abandoned. This argument is easily discounted by the numbers themselves. The figure of 100,000 represents only about 1 percent of the 9 million horses in the United States, and many of these 100,000 horses are stolen from caring owners. In 1998, when California banned horse slaughter, horse theft went down by 34 percent.
In addition, in 1990, more than 350,000 American horses were slaughtered for food compared to 100,000 horses slaughtered in 2008. Yet there has been no epidemic of unwanted horses on our streets or in our fields in the last 19 years. If overpopulation problems were to arise, horse owners will buy some of these horses, horse rescue facilities will absorb some, and others will be humanely euthanized. For the cost of approximately one month of care — roughly $250 — users can humanely euthanize and dispose of unwanted or sick horses.
Once this bill is passed and the export for slaughter is stopped, we can then turn our attention to supporting appropriate care and outcomes for these horses, including responsible breeding, rescue and adoption, and humane euthanasia. It is vital that we have infrastructure in place to care for horses in need and to offer assistance to public and private horse owners who are unable to provide for their animals.
There are currently more than 400 equine rescue facilities around the country. Although many are at capacity, there are certainly some with space and ability. Veterinarians are also helping, often partnering with rescue facilities to rehabilitate resident horses and place them in permanent homes. There are several unique programs around the country where horse trainers are working with rescues to make horses more marketable for adoption. Farmers are stepping up to help. For example, the National Black Farmers Association has partnered with the Animal Welfare Institute to place at-risk horses on member farms through Project Wanted Horse
Throughout our nation’s history, the federal government has stepped up to protect animals from vicious and inhumane treatment. It is now time for Congress to build upon that legacy. We simply cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the brutal killing of such majestic animals so that a small group of people can turn a nominal profit.
This debate is not about overpopulation. And it is not about dealing with old or sick horses. The future of horse slaughter legislation comes down to Congress having the will to do what is fair and what is right. By passing the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, we can show our respect for these creatures and prevent our American horses from succumbing to such a tragic demise. Horses are a unique part of American culture and heritage, and they should be treated as the noble animals that they are.
Landrieu is the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.