A bill under consideration in Congress would prohibit slaughtering horses in the United States for human consumption, as well as ban the transport of horseflesh and live horses to countries where they will be slaughtered for their meat.
Representative Connie Morella, Republican of Maryland, introduced the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act on Feb. 14, saying her bill "will end the slaughter of our horses for human consumption for good, rather than simply sending the practice over the border."
At press time, a bipartisan group of 19 co-sponsors supported the federal ban, and the House committees on Agriculture, International Relations, and Ways and Means were reviewing the bill (H.R. 3781).
The legislation is similar to the Helping Out to Rescue and Save Equines Act (H.R. 2622) proposed by Republican Rep. Thomas Reynolds of New York last July. That bill, which prohibits the interstate transport of horseflesh and horses for the purpose of slaughter for human consumption, has lingered in the House Subcommittee on Livestock and Horticulture since August.
In her comments to the House, Morella noted the important roles horses have played in American history—on the farm and as companion animals—and how the culture recognizes many famous equines, including the Triple Crown winners Citation and Secretariat, the Lone Ranger's Silver, Roy Rogers' Trigger, and Mr. Ed.
The AVMA and AAEP are formulating responses to the legislation, and their statements are expected sometime after the American Horse Council meeting this month in Washington, D.C.
Debate over whether horses should be used for food is an emotional one, but not one the AAEP should weigh in on, according to David Foley, AAEP executive director. "Our position is, whether horses are used for human consumption or not is a societal and cultural issue, and it's not one for us to render an opinion on," he said. "Our interest is in the health and welfare of the horse and how the horses are treated."
The AHC, of which the AAEP is a member, went on record against the Reynolds bill, saying it increases the likelihood for abuse, since owners unable to dispose of unwanted horses might end up neglecting them. Such a fate is worse than humane euthanasia at a Department of Agriculture-regulated processing facility, according to the council.
Citing USDA data, Morella said that more than 55,000 horses were slaughtered in the United States last year to meet consumer demand in foreign markets. Thousands more were shipped live into Mexico and Canada for slaughter.
"To allow this industry to continue operating here is to accept federally sanctioned cruelty," said Chris Heyde of the Society for Animal Protective Legislation.
The SAPL and other proponents of the legislation, including the Doris Day Animal League, believe a federal ban will promote horse welfare by curtailing horse theft and will stop abuse and injuries that horses may suffer during transportation and at the slaughter facilities.
The USDA implemented rules in February regulating the transport of horses to facilities where they are slaughtered for food (see JAVMA, Feb. 1, 2002, page 285).
Three horse-slaughtering facilities operate in the United States—two in Texas, the other in Illinois. The horseflesh is then exported to Canada, Europe, Japan, and elsewhere. Several states have made the practice illegal, California being the most recent.