Congress should act to permanently end horse slaughter in 2021

America was built on the backs of horses and in the coming weeks U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Vern Buchanan (R-FL) plan to re-introduce the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act that would end the slaughter of American horses.

The measure would prevent horse slaughter plants from operating in the U.S. and stop the export of horses across the border for the purpose of human consumption. Our iconic American equines were critical to the development of our nation and they don’t deserve this end, and Americans should applaud the Members of Congress who support this effort for their tireless work to help the horses.

If this bipartisan bill were given the opportunity for a vote, there is no doubt that it would pass. The SAFE Act garnered 238 co-sponsors in the U.S. House in the 116th Congress, and there is little doubt that even more of the House Members in the 117th Congress will support the measure.

A similar bill passed the House in 2006 with a supermajority in support of the legislation. Back then, the U.S. Senate failed to bring the previously passed House bill to a vote to end horse slaughter, but with President Joe Biden’s longtime record against horse slaughter and the leadership of U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat carrying the torch in the Upper Chamber, perhaps we’ve seen the tide turn in the horses’ favor.

In December, the final 2021 federal spending package included language to defund horse slaughter inspections in the U.S., continuing the de facto ban on slaughtering horses on U.S. soil thanks to the efforts of Schakowsky, Buchanan, Graham, Menendez, U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), and others.

The slaughter of American equines for human consumption claims tens of thousands of horses per year — most of them perfectly healthy and fit to be companions, trail riders or competitors. It’s unfortunate that even the winner of the 1986 Kentucky Derby, Ferdinand, fell victim to this predatory industry, and if one of the nation’s most popular horses can be snatched up and forced into a kill chute, then no horse is safe. Many American racehorses wind up in the slaughter pipeline once they’re no longer able to race or win prized events.

Horses are skittish flight animals, and coupled with the fact that in the U.S. we train and socialize them to be trusting and dependent on people, it is axiomatic that horse slaughter can never be made humane.  They are vulnerable to injury and even death when “kill buyers” haul them across long distances packed like sardines in horse trailers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture documented serious cruelty violations in plants previously operated in the United States prior to closure in 2007.

When horse slaughter was legal in the U.S., millions of taxpayer dollars were spent inspecting foreign-owned horse slaughter plants, facilities where horses arrived with horrific eye injuries, broken bones, and even dead. Now, our horses must endure long trips to slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico in order to fill orders from overseas meat companies. Congress should act immediately to stop enabling the predatory slaughter industry from victimizing animals that the vast majority of Americans view as companions and partners in work, recreation, and sports. Indeed, most Americans want no part of this enterprise of supplying foreign diners with horse meat. We don’t eat horse meat in America, just as we don’t eat dogs and cats (a ban on dog and cat meat was signed into law in the 2018 Farm Bill as a result of Animal Wellness Action’s work to end the practice).

In this era of frightening, polarizing political division, the bipartisan SAFE Act is a bill both parties can get behind. Hundreds of thousands of advocates are calling on the House Agriculture Committee — now led by Chairman David Scott, a Georgia Democrat, and Ranking Member Glenn Thompson, a Pennsylvania Republican, and leaders of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, to work together to advance the bill to a vote. The measure would surely pass and fulfill the will of the American people — something that poll after poll has proven the overwhelming majority of Americans support. Congress should take action in 2021 to finally end horse slaughter for good, and you can help push them to do it by taking action here and asking your Members to support and cosponsor the SAFE Act upon introduction.

Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C., who was named as one of The Hill’s Top Lobbyists for 2019and 2020 and was recently honored by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, II for his work to protect horses. Follow him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook@MartyIrby.