Horse slaughter is a cruel business that inhumanely kills tens of thousands of American horses each year. The SAFE Act is essential legislation to ban horse slaughter, including the export and sale of equines for slaughter. Read on to learn more about equine slaughter and why we need the SAFE Act.
Isn’t horse slaughter illegal already?
There is no federal law banning horse slaughter. It is currently not practiced in the United States only because in fiscal year 2006, Congress began including directives in annual appropriations legislation that block funding for federal inspection in US-based horse slaughter plants. Without such inspection, horse slaughter plants cannot legally operate. However, this provision only applies to the given fiscal year. It must be renewed annually for the prohibition to stay in effect. In fact, the provision was allowed to lapse in appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2012. Subsequently, facilities in New Mexico, Iowa, and Missouri sought and received permits from the USDA to begin slaughtering horses. Fortunately, court battles prevented the companies from following through before the appropriations provision to block inspection funding was renewed for fiscal year 2014. It has been renewed every year since.
If horse slaughter isn’t happening here, why do we need the SAFE Act?
Blocking slaughter through annual appropriations language is a precarious and uncertain way to keep horse slaughter from resuming in the United States. The Safe Act would implement a clear and unambiguous ban. Just as importantly, the Safe Act—in addition to permanently banning the slaughter of horses on US soil—would close the loophole that allows the sale and transport of American horses to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico. Each year, tens of thousands of American horses are transported over the border to slaughter. These horses— companion animals, racehorses, and wild horses—endure horrific conditions and inhumane treatment. Horses en route to slaughter endure long journeys in crowded trailers with minimal food, water, and rest. Once at the slaughterhouse, panicked horses may endure rough treatment and extremely inhumane methods to render them unconscious.
Do American citizens support horse slaughter?
No. Americans overwhelmingly support an end to horse slaughter for human consumption. A national poll by Lake Research Partners conducted in 2021 found that 83 percent of Americans support a federal ban, an increase from a similar poll in 2012. In California, a 1998 ballot initiative (Prop. 6) banning horse slaughter for human consumption passed with 60 percent of the vote.
Is banning horse slaughter a states’ rights issue? Shouldn’t the federal government stay out of it?
No. The slaughtering of any animal for human consumption in the United States is a federally regulated process. This is true for cattle, pigs, or other livestock, as well (Federal Meat Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. 603); Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (7 U.S.C. 1901 note; Public Law 104-127)). In addition, the market for horsemeat is overseas, and horsemeat sold commercially would be transported across state lines and the US border—activities that irrefutably invoke federal authority under the US Constitution’s Commerce Clause.
States do have some leeway to ban certain slaughter practices within their borders—Texas, California, Illinois, and New Jersey, for example, have banned horse slaughter. A federal law prohibiting horse slaughter, however, is necessary to ensure slaughterhouses do not become established in states with no such ban and to prevent horses from being exported en masse for slaughter in Canada, Mexico, or elsewhere.
Furthermore, nobody has a “right” to abuse or neglect an animal. There are laws against animal abuse, neglect, and abandonment at all levels of government in the United States.
Is it true that slaughter is a last resort for infirm, dangerous, or no longer serviceable horses?
No. In fact, 92.3 percent of horses arriving at slaughter plants in the United States when such plants were in operation were deemed to be in “good” condition, described as not underweight, overweight, lame, or sick, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Guidelines for Handling and Transporting Equines to Slaughter. The horse slaughter industry makes a greater profit from healthy horses and therefore purposely seeks out such animals. Old, thin, or infirm horses are not desirable or profitable for “kill buyers” (individuals who obtain and transport horses to slaughterhouses—typically to fulfill quotas established under contracts with processing plants in Mexico and Canada).
Will horse abuse and neglect cases rise significantly following a ban on slaughter?
No. The market for slaughtering horses is entirely driven by foreign demand, and the ability of kill buyers to profit from exporting American horses, not by the number of “unwanted” horses. There has been no documented rise in abuse and neglect cases in California since the state banned horse slaughter for human consumption in 1998. Furthermore, horse theft in California has dropped by over 34% since horse slaughter was banned, according to numbers obtained from the California Livestock and Identification Bureau. There was no documented rise in abuse and neglect cases in Illinois following closure of the state’s only horse slaughter plant in 2007. Indeed, since closure of the three remaining foreign-owned horse slaughter plants in the United States in 2007, there has been no correlating rise in neglect and abuse cases. Conversely, horse slaughter engenders indiscriminate breeding and neglect by providing a “dumping ground” for unscrupulous owners. Slaughter is not humane euthanasia. Horses suffer horribly on the way to and during slaughter.
If there is a ban on horse slaughter, will horse rescue and retirement groups have the resources to take care of unwanted horses?
Hundreds of horse rescue organizations operate around the country and additional facilities are being established. Although rescues shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden, it is encouraging that we’ve seen a rise in equine rescues around the country, with many maintaining close ties with their surrounding communities in order to better assist with at-risk horses. Close to a decade ago, the Homes for Horses Coalition consisted of about 300 member organizations; today, nearly 500. The Homes for Horses Coalition aims to provide support and community to lessen this burden on any individual organization. However, not every horse currently going to slaughter will need to be absorbed into the rescue community. Humane placement options are available for these horses, such as: selling to a vetted, private owner; leasing to another horse enthusiast; and donating to an equine therapy program or mounted police unit. Research has found that there are over one million potential homes for the “unwanted” horse population. Gelding clinics are helpful in curbing backyard breeding and overbreeding, as well as encouraging responsible breeding practices. For sick and elderly horses, euthanasia by a licensed veterinarian is a far better option than the trauma of slaughter.
Can’t horse slaughter be done humanely in the United States so that horses don’t need to suffer from long transport to countries where there may be weaker welfare laws?
When horse slaughter facilities operated domestically, the USDA documented egregious abuses during transport and at slaughter. The journey to slaughterhouses was still arduous and horses would arrive in appalling condition, sometimes with serious injuries and broken limbs. Humane handling violations were documented as well. Further, the horse slaughter industry is predatory by nature, with many horses obtained by kill buyers under false pretenses from unsuspecting owners.