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American horses deserve safety, and the SAFE Act

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American horses have always been a living symbol of our nation’s history, its natural grandeur, and its deep compassion. But to some unscrupulous actors and industries, they represent nothing more than political pawns, instruments of profit, and – most horrifically – food. 

The practice of slaughtering U.S. horses and turning them into food products represents a deplorable and inhumane betrayal. While horse slaughter is currently halted in the U.S., roughly 100,000 American horses have been annually shipped to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered for the purpose of food production.

{mosads}The process of moving and killing these animals is crueler than you might imagine. Transporting them typically means treating them as if they’re already dead — crammed into trailers sometimes for days without sufficient food, water or rest. Under these conditions, fights often break out, leaving horses severely and sometimes fatally injured. And due to their biology, horses are difficult to stun and often remain conscious during their butchering and dismemberment.

Even when horse slaughter plants were allowed in the U.S., horses were still transported over long distances, and tens of thousands of them were still exported annually for slaughter. Several thousand horses were actually imported for slaughter. The only humane way forward is to end this practice completely.

Ending horse slaughter is not only in the best interest of horses – it would also help protect human health. Because American horses are raised with no intention of using them for food, they are routinely given hundreds of drugs and other substances that have not been approved by the FDA for use in animals intended for human consumption. More than 50 of these drugs are expressly prohibited for animals that are later consumed by people, representing an enormous health risk. If horse slaughter resumes in the U.S., there’s a strong risk that, during food production, horsemeat will be commingled with beef – as we’ve seen done in other countries – so consumers may not even realize they’re eating toxic horsemeat.

Conscientious government leaders have already responded to this threat. In 2015, the EU suspended horsemeat imports from Mexico due in large part to food safety and cruelty concerns over the slaughter of American horses in Mexican plants. A similar regulatory crackdown occurred last March in Canada, and since then, 43 percent fewer American horses have been exported north.

The last horse slaughter plant in the U.S. shut down in 2007, and Congress has worked to keep them off U.S. soil every year by denying funding for required slaughterhouse inspections in its annual appropriations budgets. That yearly action holds back a sure flood of cruelty: In 2011, the only year the restriction was not renewed, the dormant horse slaughter industry immediately began the process of setting up slaughterhouses in several states.

This year, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed similar defunding language, but the House Appropriations Committee narrowly rejected it, opening the door for horse slaughter facilities – which have a history of rampant cruelty violations — to return to our country.

As we wait for Congress to return from its August recess to hopefully act in favor of horses, we must recognize that this is a temporary and partial solution to the problem. Working through the Appropriations process means the protection must be renewed every year and is subject to unpredictable political winds. This approach also does not prevent the shipping of horses to other countries for slaughter.

No horse will truly be safe until Congress passes the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which would permanently ban horse slaughter in the U.S. and prohibit the transport of American horses to other countries for slaughter. There was hopeful news on this front when the bill was reintroduced in the Senate just last week by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine). In January, the same measure was introduced in the House by Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Ed Royce (R-Calif.), and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.). Such strong bipartisan agreement is rare in modern times, signaling a unique opportunity for this Congress to make meaningful progress.

Unsurprisingly, the predatory horse slaughter industry will stop at nothing to protect their profits at the cost of cruelty. They’ll contend that horses shipped to slaughter are old, sickly, or unwanted, but that claim is unsupported by the facts. According to USDA, when horse slaughter was legal in America, more than 92 percent of the U.S. horses sent to slaughter were healthy animals who could have gone on to lead productive lives with responsible owners. And according to data from Edge Research, up to 2.3 million Americans say they are willing and able to adopt a horse in need. 

There’s a lot of mythology around American horses, but also important realities: All U.S. horses slaughtered for human consumption start their lives as pets, sport horses, or loyal work animals – most of them deeply loved.

We cannot change the culinary choices of other cultures, but we can insist that American horses not be subjected to abuse on behalf of foreign interests. And as the relentless horse slaughter industry tries to reestablish its operations in America, all of us – whether you own a horse or never come close to one – should support bringing this horrific practice to a definitive end.

Matt Bershadker is American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals president & CEO.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Bob Menendez Lindsey Graham Sheldon Whitehouse Susan Collins

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