With President Obama signing a comprehensive federal spending bill for 2014 on Friday that includes language barring horse slaughter for human consumption in the U.S., we can take comfort that slaughter plants about to start chewing up horses in Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico won’t get that chance, at least for the foreseeable future. The Humane Society of the United States and Front Range Equine Rescue, with a timely intervention from former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and actor Robert Redford, held them off in the courts until the Congress and the President took final action on the spending bill last week. Not since 2007 have slaughter plants been killing horses for human consumption on U.S. soil., and we’re pleased to see that ban extended.
While this was a hard-fought and important victory, it is incomplete. American horses are still going to slaughter, in Canada and Mexico, and that should trouble every horse advocate. Most of these horses are perfectly healthy, and not a single one of them was raised for human consumption.
These horses travel a long, zigzagging route to get on the dinner plates of a relatively small number of consumers in Belgium, France, Italy, and Japan. Horsemeat isn’t a staple in any of these countries.
Last week, Humane Society International renewed calls for the European Union to issue a moratorium on the import and sale of North American horsemeat following the adoption of a strong and wide-ranging European Parliament report entitled, ‘The food crisis, fraud in the food chain and the control thereof.” The European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) has repeatedly expressed concern about American horses going over the border because of concerns about the validity of the vendor statements about the animals and the substances administered to them throughout their lives. The Parliamentary report urges both the “Commission and Member States to act on the findings of FVO audits with regard to fraudulent medical treatment records of animals destined for slaughter for export to the EU, and to exclude meat and other animal products from third countries, which cannot be guaranteed to be compliant with EU food safety requirements from being placed on the EU market.”
The horsemeat trade is a cruel one, and it is unsafe for consumers because these animals were not raised for food. During their lives on the race track, in the pleasure barn, or on a farm or somewhere else, they’ve typically been dosed with substances unfit for human consumption.
And what of our values about animals? We wouldn’t gather up dogs from random sources and send them to slaughter because a small group of foreign consumers want to eat their meat. We wouldn’t start slaughtering retired laboratory chimps and other captive primates in the U.S. because we could make a profit by selling to some bush meat consumers. We are not going to allow a few Americans to start killing whales because a few people have a taste for humpback or beluga. There’s more that governs human behavior than appetite alone.
And the notion that we should be slaughtering American horses is either historically inconsistent, or simply ungrateful. Not only have we Americans almost exclusively steered clear of eating horses for food during our 200 or so year history, but we’ve cherished their role in helping us settle the nation, in carrying us into battle, entertaining us with the speed and their gait, delighting us as companions, and conducting work that added value to our economy and helped us earn a livelihood.
How miserable now to treat them as a cheap commodity, valued principally as some ephemeral side dish for people living on other continents.
Action items: European authorities should clamp down on the trade, since there’s no way to track the drugs that went into horses in America, during the years prior to slaughter. And the Congress should build on its de-fund provision by banning live exports of horses for human consumption. The Safeguard American Food Exports Act, H.R. 1094 / S. 541, introduced this year by U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Reps. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., does exactly that, helping horses avoid a pitiful fate and forbidding the sale of toxic meat. Please make sure to take action on this issue by contacting your member of Congress, asking them to support the SAFE act.