American politicians have introduced a bill that would ban the transport of U.S. horses to Canada and Mexico for slaughter.
A bi-partisan coalition of politicians, including Democratic senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced the bill March 13.
It would ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the United States and prohibit the transport of horses for slaughter beyond U.S. borders.
“The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act would … end the current export of American horses for slaughter abroad,” the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Welfare Institute said in a joint news release.
“Last year, more than 160,000 American horses were sent to a cruel death by a grisly foreign industry that produces unsafe food for consumers.”
Federal politicians have introduced several bills since the early 2000s to ban horse slaughter in the U.S., but none have become law.
However, Chris Heyde, the Animal Welfare Institute’s deputy director of government affairs, said the most recent bill may have the necessary momentum to become law because of the horse meat scandal in Europe, a proposal to open a slaughter plant in New Mexico and a senator who ardently opposes horse slaughter.
“I think this time we have a Senate sponsor (Landrieu) who is very personally involved in this,” Heyde said.
“She has (recovered) rescue horses from auctions and she has a young daughter who is a competitive rider. She was a competitive rider.”
Heyde, who helped introduce the first bill to outlaw horse slaughter in 2002, said previous attempts came close to succeeding.
“We’ve always had the votes to pass any of these. We’ve passed the House of Representatives before and we’ve passed committee,” he said.
“Even now, we know we have the votes to pass a bill out of both chambers of the Congress.”
Bill desBarres, chair of the Horse Welfare Alliance of Canada, disagreed.
He said he doesn’t think the U.S. will ever ban horse slaughter or the transport of horses to Canada because Americans treasure personal freedom.
“Ultimately on this Congress bill application, I think there will be a lot of hoopla and they will spend a lot of time on it, but generally speaking, people want the right (to eat what they want).”
The bill, if passed, would curtail the flow of American horses to slaughter plants in Alberta and Quebec.
Horse slaughter ended in the U.S. more than six years ago after the government stopped funding inspections at plants where horses were killed for human consumption.
The number of horses slaughtered in Canada increased to 113,000 from 50,000 following the de facto ban, which was rescinded five years later in 2011.
DesBarres said it’s hard to know how badly Canadian plants will suffer if Americans stop shipping horses north.
“I’m not in the business, per se, so I can’t (speculate) on profit and loss, but I would certainly hope that it remains an end-of-life option for our herd in Canada.”
However, he also said horse prices in Canada should rise if the ban is enacted, which would provide an opportunity to expand the industry.
“We are seeing an increase in horse feedlots in Canada. That will help us with the supply if a supply problem happens,” he said.
“There’s some in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and I just heard the other day about one in Ontario that’s (under) development.”
Heyde said the U.S. bill is designed to stop the flow of American horses around North America because the closure of American plants has pushed the problem across the border.
“It would definitely hit on Canadian facilities because a lot of the horses are from the U.S.,” he said.
“(But) I imagine it (horse slaughter) could exist in Canada on some level.”
The U.S. bill is a response to a company that wants to open a horse slaughter plant in New Mexico. If approved, Valley Meat Company LLC would be the first facility in the U.S. to slaughter horses for human consumption since 2007.
Valley Meat has applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide inspection services for the plant.
The department is processing the application, and the New York Times reported in late February that it was expected to approve the request in the next two months.
Valley Meat claims that the USDA must provide inspectors for all applicable species under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which include horses.
Keith Dane, equine protection director with the Humane Society of the U.S., said the New Mexico plant could open in a month or two.
“Assuming that they were to approve it and begin to inspect operations at that plant … it could be (open) as soon as 30 to 60 days.”
However, Heyde said the government may once again remove funding for horse slaughter inspections or pass a ban, particularly because 80 percent of Americans oppose horse slaughter and Congress is desperate to cut federal expenditures.
“From an American perspective, this is an industry that has always been foreign driven,” he said.
“All the meat has always gone overseas. All the plants have been foreign owned, so there is really no interest or benefit to the U.S., other than we have to pay a great amount of money to inspect these facilities. So, that’s playing very well with some of the fiscally conservative Republicans.”
Horses slaughtered in Canada
2012 – 82, 195
2011 – 89,399
2010 – 89,034
2008 – 111, 236
2007 – 79,613
2006 – 50,067
Horse meat exports from Canada, in 2011:
Belgium: 4,818 tonnes
France: 2,893 tonnes
Switzerland: 2,439 tonnes
Other countries: 3,826 tonnes
Source: Agriculture Canada