In November of 2011, both houses of Congress and U.S. President Barack Obama approved an appropriations bill that has the effect of legalizing horse slaughter for human consumption. Although horse slaughter was never technically banned in the U.S., the practice ended because Congress decided to stop funding inspections of horse slaughterhouses. Because the law requires slaughterhouses to be inspected if the meat is for human consumption, stopping the inspections had the effect of stopping the slaughter. Efforts to ban horse slaughter outright were unsuccessful. H.R.2112 authorizes funding for the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce Justice, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, including funding for inspections of horse slaughterhouses.
Horse slaughter for other reasons continued even though horse slaughter for human consumption was banned, because inspections were not required if the meat was not for human consumption. Horse meat used to be an ingredient in pet food, and while it's now rare to find horse meat in cat or dog food, horse meat is used still to feed carnivores in zoos.
One would think that animal advocates would oppose the legalization of horse slaughter, but at least one group suppported it: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Why Did They Legalize Horse Slaughter?
Despite the effective ban on horse slaughter in the U.S., thousands of horses were still being shipped out of the country to Canadian slaughterhouses and 20,000 - 30,000 horses were being sent to slaughter in Mexico every year. The meat was exported around the world. Some argue that no horses were saved, and the horses had to endure lenghty, difficult transport situations and inhumane slaughter conditions. According to a Washington Post article on horse advocate Madeleine Pickens' website, the Government Accounting Office found that the U.S. ban on horse slaughter was causing horses to be shipped to "foreign slaughtering facilities where U.S. humane slaughtering protections do not apply."
If so many Americans oppose horse slaughter, why would Congress vote this way? According to Jo Singer of Petside.com, two pro-slaughter members of Congress quietly removed the language that de-funded the inspections, and:
In order to keep the government afloat, it was critical to have this appropriations bill passed. Many sponsors of the anti-slaughter legislation had to sign it and regretfully, so did our President. Most importantly, however, is the fact that nowhere in the bill is horse slaughter even mentioned.
This move from Obama is especially disappointing because Obama had previously supported a ban on horse slaughter. As a senator, Obama co-sponsored the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, which would have prohibited transporting live horses from the US to foreign slaughterhouses.
Most animal advocates oppose horse slaughter, but because of concerns about transport and slaughter conditions, PETA supports the legalization of horse slaughter.
Horse owners and breeders also argue that horse slaughter is a necessary evil, because someone who cannot afford to keep their horses is likely to allow the animals to starve to death if they can't sell them for slaughter.
While the issue may seem comlicated, the animal rights position is not to support humane transport and humane slaughter, but to oppose slaughter completely.
Where do the horses come from?
In the U.S., horses are not bred for slaughter, but there is no shortage of extra horses because of overbreeding. Some people who breed, race and show horses find themselves with extra horses, and need a way to dispose of the horses who didn't make the cut. Because horse slaughter is so controversial, some of the larger racetracks now ban owners and trainers who sell their horses for slaughter, although horses are often sold without the seller asking too many questions.
How did my legislators vote?
What you can do:
U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, who was named Legislator of the Year by the HSUS Legislative Fund in 2011, is working on a permanent ban on horse slaughter. Contact your federal senators and representatives and urge them to co-sponsor a ban on horse slaughter. You can look up your U.S. Representative on the House of Representatives website, while your senators can be found on the official Senate website.
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