Horse Slaughter: Progress and Setbacks

There is now a Senate version of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (S. 541), thanks to Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Like its House companion (H.R. 1094), this legislation would ban horse slaughter operations in the United States, end the current export of American horses for slaughter abroad, and protect the public from consuming toxic horse meat. Sens. Landrieu and Graham also sponsored a successful defunding amendment to the Senate’s FY 2014 Agriculture Appropriations bill, prohibiting the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from inspecting horse slaughter plants; without such inspections, the plants cannot operate. Reps. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Bill Young (R-FL) succeeded with a similar amendment in the House Appropriations Committee.

Sentiment against horse slaughter is also growing within the Obama administration. For the first time, the president’s FY 2014 budget included defunding language, and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters in March that Congress needs an alternative to slaughter for handling “unwanted” horses. (See Spring 2013 AWI Quarterly) Nevertheless, and despite opposition from local officials, USDA has given the green light to the opening of two horse slaughter plants (in New Mexico and Iowa) by issuing “grants of inspection.” In making this decision, the department ignored the many animal welfare, food safety, human health, and environmental concerns that have been raised. A lawsuit has been filed on the grounds that USDA failed to conduct an environmental review as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.