Cruelty to Animals Should Never Be Viewed as an Export Opportunity

Congress is overdue to halt live exports of horses for consumption,
fighting animals for combat, mink pelts for fashion, and bear bile as a potion.

Many domestic forms of animal exploitation survive, and even thrive, because the people behind these enterprises tap foreign markets for their cruelty and contraband, whether they’re peddling live animals or animal parts.  

With the world’s most abundant populations of bears, the United States is home to an untold number of poachers who lure and kill the animals for their gall bladders and sell the bile to China for use in alternative medicines there. It’s not a product you’ll see in any pharmacy or on any shelf featuring over-the-country health aids in the United States. But in China, there are 50 million consumers for bear bile used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Or take the trade in fighting animals. Even though it’s America’s the most widely and severely criminalized form of animal cruelty — with complementary state and federal laws barring animal combat — there are tens of thousands of pit-bull-type dogs and millions of roosters raised for fighting in the United States. Hundreds of thousands are live-exported to dozens of countries, with Mexico the top destination and the cartels among the major buyers.

And think mink. Here’s a form of fur farming that has seen its domestic market vanish over the last decade. In 1960, there were as many as 7,000 mink farms in the United States, and wearing mink was an emblem of high society and, in more contemporary times, even a flourish in rap culture. But no longer. With some limited exceptions, the store racks at clothing retailers are bare of mink. Fashion designers shed the product some years ago, too. Still though, there are a few dozen remaining mink farms, concentrated in Utah and Wisconsin, raising and pelting more than a million animals, entirely for export, mainly to China.

While we once had dozens of horse-slaughter plants operating in the United States, the last of them were shuttered in 2007. Still, though, kill buyers lurk in the shadows of horse auctions and B- and C-grade racetracks. They gather up healthy horses and shuttle them off to Mexico and Canada, which in turn butcher the animals and ship the meat, laden with drug residues, to foreign markets where a small number of consumers still buy the adulterated flesh.

Here’s what we’re doing to put an end to this animal trafficking masquerading as legitimate trade.

  1. Halting live exports to Mexico and Canada for slaughter for re-export

    This week, we released word that U.S. Department of Agriculture export data reveal that kill buyers shipped 17,997 horses from Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas to slaughter plants in Mexico in 2023. This was the most significant annual percentage increase of live horse exports since 2012. (Final numbers are not yet available for live exports to Canada.)

    We are sounding the alarm to lawmakers in Congress that healthy American equines are being butchered in a secretive, inhumane trade to Mexico. The animal welfare community and the Thoroughbred racing industry are united in demanding an end to this archaic, miserable, sickening trade. The SAFE Act is our legislative vehicle.

  2. Combating the trafficking of animals across the U.S. southern border for fighting

    American cockfighters and dogfighters are consorting with cartels and gangs, and the spillover of deadly violence is happening in our homeland and, acutely so, in Mexico. This past weekend, six died and 13 were injured in a shoot-out at a cockfight in Guerrero. A little more than a year before, 20 people were murdered and four injured after cartel members surprised a competing clan and burst into the venue with semiautomatic weapons blazing. In Hawaii, in April 2023, the state had its largest-ever mass shooting at an illegal cockfight there. The FIGHT Act will enhance tools to take on this problem.

  3. Keeping mink pelts away from elites in China

    Mink farms are viral mixing bowls threatening public health with viruses from H5N1 (“bird flu”) to mutant strains of COVID-19. A massive worldwide SARS-CoV-2 epidemic in farmed mink has paralleled the human COVID-19 pandemic starting in 2020, with outbreaks on at least 450 mink farms in 13 countries in Europe, Canada, and the United States.

    Production of mink on factory farms stays alive in the United States because of trade with China, where just a small number of elite consumers in a nation of 1.4 billion can keep commerce flowing from 50 U.S.-based mink confinement facilities. This enables China to outsource viral risks to our homeland.

    We are working on federal legislation to put an end to an economically insignificant and virally dangerous industry that causes immense cruelty to captive wildlife.

  4. Stopping the flow of bear bile to China

    A 2022 report noted “that the Chinese market for bear bile powder was worth nearly $62 million, making up for nearly 97% of the global market — and its value is only expected to increase in the coming years.” China sold 44.7 tons of bear bile powder in 2021, according to the report.

    That’s bad news for bears in the United States and Canada, which collectively have the world’s largest bruin populations.

    We should not kill sharks for their fins, elephants for their tusks, rhinos for their horns, or bears for their gall bladders. Our Bear Poaching Elimination Act is the answer to bear-bile-as-medicine quackery.

These forms of animal trafficking originating in the United States must cease

So many of these forms of mistreatment of animals are now viewed skeptically by the public when they are alerted to the gory details. When we solve them, we’ll make the world safer for all — by suppressing interpersonal violence, zoonotic disease, and adulterated food.  

We cannot stand aside once we understand this commerce as cruelty. We must meet the challenge through lawmaking and enforcement actions.

Please join us in fighting to halt the cruel trade in animals in Mexico, China, and Canada. Join our effort today.

Dear reader: If you support substantive policy work to protect animals, please consider donating to Animal Wellness Action today. You can give any amount one time, or make it a monthly gift, as many of our supporters do. Thank you for helping us fight for all animals. Please go here to make your contribution.