House Votes to Ban Horse Slaughter

In an act that went against the recommendations of the Secretary of Agriculture and two prominent veterinary groups, on Sept. 7 Congress voted 263-146 to end horse slaughter in the United States. House members also defeated two amendments that were added to the bill by members of the Agricultural Subcommittee.

“Americans have long had a love affair with horses, both domesticated and wild,” said Ed Sayres, president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, in a press release. “The recent public and media interest in the recovery of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro is a clear indication of the fascination, awe, and empathy we feel for these magnificent animals. The history of our nation is indelibly linked to these great creatures and, with the passage of this bill, we are one step closer to treating horses as we should—as valued members of our humane community.”

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503), if signed into law, would "prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption, and for other purposes." A similar bill (S. 1915) awaits a hearing in the Senate, where if passed it would then go to the President for his signature before becoming a law.

The USDA has expressed its opposition for H.R. 503. In a letter addressed to Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chair of Agricultural Subcommittee, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said, "We have serious concerns that the welfare of these horses would be negatively impacted by a ban on slaughter."

The bill, which had more than 200 co-sponsors in the House, has been a volatile issue because of the horse's place in American culture. One of the main concerns from those who oppose the bill is what will happen to horses intended for slaughter if plants are closed.

Two veterinary groups--the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and the American Veterinary Medical Association--strongly opposed the ban, stating that it would solve few problems, and create others.

"This bill will negatively impact the health and welfare of horses across the country and offers no solution to the current problem of what to do with horses that are no longer needed or useful to their owners," said Tom R. Lenz, DVM, MS, AAEP past president and chairman of that group’s Equine Welfare Committee. "Horses processed at USDA-regulated facilities under the supervision of federal veterinarians are treated with dignity and euthanized humanely."

Kellye Fondy, manager of communications for the American Quarter Horse Association, said, "We are disappointed in the outcome of the vote. We really feel like emotion won over common sense. We have not changed our position on the bill, and we will continue our efforts to deal with unwanted horses."

The two amendments, one that would require certification of equine rescue groups before implementing a ban to ensure they could handle in the increased load, and another that would exempt people who eat horsemeat as part of their culture (such as the Sioux Indians) and would allow them to continue to slaughter horses commercially, were both defeated 229-177 and 256-149, respectively.

Goodlatte expressed his disappointment in the amendment's defeat, "The amendments were created to correct some of these problems created by this bill."

Those who oppose the bill say that horses will be shipped to countries where there are fewer regulations for humane treatment. More than 90,000 horses were slaughtered in the United States last year, and another 21,000 horses were shipped to Canada, and another 11,000 were exported to Mexico for slaughter, according to the USDA.

At least one country, Japan, would be unaffected by a U.S. ban on horse slaughter, according to a DNA World article.

"Japanese imports of horse meat are unaffected by the U.S. vote because first of all, Japan does not import that much from the United States," Agriculture Ministry official Hidetoshi Akinaga said in the article.

"Japan's main trade partners for horse meat are Canada, Brazil, and Argentina," Akinaga said. “These three countries account for 82% of Japan's horsemeat imports."

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the Humane Society of the United States supported the passage of H.R. 503. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., a cosponsor of the bill, said, "Since 1979, there have been efforts and attempts to bring this piece of legislations to the floor for debate. Horse slaughter is one of the most inhumane, brutal, shady practices going on in the U.S. This is a piece of legislation that is long overdue."

Goodlatte stated, "A responsible horse owner should have the right to choose. Make no mistake about it; H.R. 503 provides no solutions, it only creates more problems."

About the Author

Chad Mendell

Chad Mendell is the former Managing Editor for .

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