By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
Update 6/16/23: The Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act has been introduced in the U.S. Senate (S. 2037) by Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. The U.S. still exports tens of thousands of horses to slaughter. It’s well past time we permanently ban domestic horse slaughter in the U.S. and stop the export of American horses for slaughter abroad.
Horses are celebrated in America for their beauty and athleticism, yet they are also sometimes viewed as expendable commodities. Even though horse slaughter has not occurred on U.S. soil since 2007, horses across the U.S. are still being sold and sent to slaughter abroad when no longer deemed useful or profitable by their owners who fail to seek out humane rehoming alternatives.
We have been on the front lines fighting horse slaughter for years. Most horses slaughtered for meat come from lives shared with people, whether as beloved companions, faithful steeds at horseback riding stables, competitors in equine sports or working horses on a farm. Killing them for meat is the final betrayal of that connection. While all farmed animals killed in industrial slaughter facilities can have a flight response that would make slaughter traumatic, horses are particularly skittish which means there is simply no way to kill them humanely in a slaughterhouse. Moreover, horse slaughter poses significant food safety concerns. Many horses are treated with medications not intended for human consumption, which makes eating horse meat a bad bet for those who choose to eat it.
Now there is a chance to end the slaughter of American horses in a new Congress. This week, the Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act, H.R. 3475, was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla, and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. The SAFE Act would permanently ban the domestic slaughter of American horses and their export for that purpose. We worked with anti-slaughter coalition partners to encourage and support the sponsors’ introduction of the SAFE Act and will campaign hard for its passage.
This ongoing campaign is part of our decades-long fight for at-risk horses, a methodical, strategic and determined effort to bring the curtain down on a shameful practice. Before horse slaughter plants closed in the U.S., our investigations team documented the horrors of such plants in Illinois and Texas, even tracking the fate of a former racehorse who ended up as meat. We have persistently advocated for federal legislation in successive sessions of the Congress to ensure no U.S. horse suffers that fate. And every year for more than a decade, we have worked to ensure that no taxpayer dollars are made available to re-open horse slaughterhouses in the U.S.
The slaughter pipeline that now takes horses across our borders to Canada and Mexico for slaughter routinely subjects them to suffering and cruelty before their painful and terrifying deaths. At auctions, feedlots and export pens, horses are often crowded together without shelter and frequently suffer from injuries and inhumane treatment. The grueling and merciless process continues during long transports until they reach the kill box. There, equipment and practices unsuitable for rendering horses unconscious result in even more pain and suffering.
The entire horse slaughter system is convoluted and exploitative. At some horse auctions in the U.S., “kill buyers” contracted by slaughterhouses outbid legitimate horse owners and rescue organizations, robbing horses of a second chance at life. Kill buyers have even been known to pose as horse dealers and rescue advocates, tricking responsible horse owners into doing the very thing they’d hoped to avoid —consigning horses to the worst of fates.
Increased public desire for humane treatment has contributed to the growth of horse rescue charities in recent years that have greatly expanded our nation’s capacity to rehome horses, including industry-supported groups such as the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. As a result, there has been a dramatic, 83% decline in the number of horses exported for slaughter in the last 10 years. But even one horse sent into the pipeline of death is too many. That’s why we need to end this practice once and for all. Until then, horses who deserve a chance to be rehomed will still end up in the slaughter pipeline.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.