Less than two weeks after the 110th Congress convened, a bipartisan group of legislators in the House and Senate introduced a measure banning horse slaughter for human consumption.
Last year, the House passed similar legislation by a wide margin, but the Senate adjourned before the bill could be considered, effectively killing it.
Then on Jan. 17, Sens. Mary Landrieu and John Ensign introduced the Virgie S. Arden American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (S. 311) along with 11 co-sponsors. That same day, Reps. Janice Schakowsky, Ed Whitfield, John Spratt, and Nick Rahall introduced a companion bill (H.R. 503) with 61 co-sponsors.
Both bills would amend the Horse Protection Act to prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donating of any horse or other equine to be slaughtered for human consumption.
"The slaughter of horses is both cruel and inhumane, and it is our responsibility to ensure that it no longer occurs," Sen. Landrieu said. "I was proud to co-sponsor legislation to ban horse slaughter in the 109th Congress, and I am proud to be the lead sponsor of the legislation in the 110th."
Three horse processing facilities operate in the United States: two in Texas and one in Illinois. For years, the United States has exported horse meat to France, Japan, and other countries where horse flesh is considered a delicacy. In 2005, U.S. horse meat exports were estimated at 18,000 tons with a value of $61 million.
The AVMA, along with the American Association of Equine Practitioners and American Quarter Horse Association, are among some 200 groups in a coalition opposed to the legislation because, among other things, it fails to address the welfare of thousands of unwanted horses that would be affected by the bill.
Horse processing is the most regulated animal slaughter industry, according to the coalition. If the horse processing plants in Texas and Illinois were to close, as many as 100,000 unwanted horses would be vulnerable to abandonment and neglect annually. The coalition warns that processing plants in Canada and Mexico would likely take over the business without the scrutiny and supervision of U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors.
"The AVMA Governmental Relations Division will continue to work with our coalition partners to educate members of Congress about our concerns with this legislation and the negative impact on horse welfare," said Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of the AVMA GRD in Washington, D.C.
Additionally, the AVMA Executive Board has directed the GRD to help draft legislation addressing the welfare needs of the nation's unwanted horse population as an alternative to the slaughter bill.