On March 12, Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Representatives Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced the Safeguard American Food Exports Act, which would ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the United States and prohibit the transport, export or import of horses intended for slaughter or horsemeat.
The SAFE act would amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and the penalty for the first violation would be a maximum fine of $1,000 and/or up to a year in prison. Repeated violations could result in up to a $10,000 fine and up to three years in prison.
One of the major concerns the SAFE act addresses is that many horses in the United States are treated with drugs that could pose a serious health threat to humans, a concern that’s been recently raised in the British horsemeat scandal.
Valerie Pringle, equine protection specialist for the Humane Society of the United States, said the lack of a tracking system for drugs in horses in the United States is a big reason the organization supports the SAFE Act. “We’re concerned not only about the abuse inherent in horse slaughter, but the fact that horses [in the United States] are not raised for slaughter,” she said. “We know they’re given all kinds of drugs—what’s put on their hooves, anything used for rainrot, wormer—all of those products [are not meant] for use in food-producing animals. I think it really comes down to the idea of food safety, which the entire country should be concerned about.”
The last U.S. plant that slaughtered horses for human consumption closed in 2007 after Congress eliminated funding for horsemeat inspections, effectively shutting down U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections.
Last fall, the Valley Meat Company sued the USDA and its Food Safety and Inspection Service over the lack of horsemeat inspection services. The company’s Roswell, N.M., facility was unable to process the horsemeat it ships to Europe, Scandinavia and Japan without USDA inspection.
As a result, the USDA recently announced plans to process an application for inspecting horse slaughter at the company’s facility, and if approved, it would reopen.
One of the main arguments against banning horse slaughter in the United States is the abundance of unwanted horses.
Valley Meat Company owner Rick de los Santos told the Los Angeles Times that he was tired of watching countless truckloads of American horses en route to Mexico for slaughter.
“I’ve seen 130,000 horses a year on their way to Mexico—they go right through our backyard—and I wanted to tap into the market,” he said.
He also said he’s committed to humane slaughter, and that Valley Meat has upgraded the knocking chutes, which would give horses the lethal blow.
The HSUS formed a responsible breeders council to address overbreeding. “It’s one of those things where you have to take action to deal with the problem. Horse slaughter actually enables overbreeding,” said Pringle. “Right now, breeders can take their [unwanted horses] to auction to be bought by a kill buyer and make money by dumping them. If I don’t have that outlet anymore as a breeder, all of a sudden, I’m not overbreeding as much. One drives the other. We have to stop the slaughter, and then we want responsible breeders to step up.”
The House bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Committee on Agriculture. The Senate bill has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.