By: Dr. Whitney Miller, assistant director, Governmental Relations Division
U.S. Congressman Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) introduced the Safeguard American Food Exports Act of 2013 (H.R. 1094, S. 541) on March 12. This legislation, known as the “SAFE Act,” is a new take on the issue of horse slaughter. It would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to prohibit the sale, transport, import or export of equines, or their parts, to be slaughtered for human consumption.
Although AVMA is currently reviewing the SAFE Act, it has consistently been opposed to similar measures because they lack alternative options for long-term placement and care of the more than 100,000 horses that currently go to slaughter each year. AVMA believes that if the SAFE Act passes, the unintended consequences to the welfare of horses in the United States would be detrimental.
Horse slaughter has not occurred in the United States since 2007. At that time, due to a combination of state laws and a federal provision that prevented the funding of required U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections, the last two operating horse slaughter facilities in Texas and Illinois were forced to close. Congress lifted the federal funding provision that prohibited USDA inspections in 2011. Since then, several groups from New Mexico, Missouri, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Iowa have applied to the USDA for grants of inspection.
The same year the ban of USDA inspections was lifted, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report entitled, “Horse Welfare: Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter.” The GAO confirmed that the closure of the processing plants, coupled with the poor economy and high feed costs, has negatively impacted the welfare of horses. Specifically, the GAO states that horses are now traveling longer distances to processing facilities in Mexico and Canada, and there has been an increase in reports of horse abandonments, abuse, and neglect.
AVMA supports the efforts of groups such as the Unwanted Horse Coalition, the mission of which is to reduce the number of unwanted horses and to improve their welfare through education, as well as efforts by other organizations that are committed to the health, safety, and responsible breeding, care and disposition of horses.