The decision flies in the face of the White House’s rhetoric opposing the slaughter of American horses. The President’s budget for Fiscal Year 2014 called on Congress to restore the prohibition on spending federal tax dollars to inspect horse slaughter plants, which would prevent horse meat from being processed, and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently called for “a third way” to deal with unwanted horses besides killing them and exporting their meat for human consumption. The House and Senate appropriations committees both have approved provisions to block horse slaughter inspections, but rather than wait for Congress to complete its work and for the agriculture spending bill to become law, the White House has almost inexplicably granted plants the right to open just before Congress is going to shut them down. Here’s another example of the lack of common sense that characterizes national politics at work.
Actions speak louder than words. The Administration had plenty of reasons, and defensible legal options, to deny or at least defer the return of domestic horse slaughter. Indeed, HSUS and Front Range Equine Rescue presented two detailed legal petitions to USDA and FDA documenting serious food safety issues with the slaughter of horses, which are routinely given numerous substances throughout their lifetimes prohibited for use in food animals. USDA denied the petition today, without seriously addressing the superabundant evidence that horse meat is tainted with a wide variety of substances prohibited for human consumption. Nor has USDA apparently undertaken the legally required environmental review of the impacts of horse slaughter, including the problems of disposing of large amounts of blood, organs, and remains of horses whose tissues likely contain significant amounts of dangerous substances. As was the case in both Texas and Illinois before horse slaughter was halted in 2007, the process will inevitably result in toxic runoff, contaminating local streams, rivers, and groundwater, and negatively impacting the lives of humans and animals who live near slaughter plants.
The horse slaughter apologists say the only way to help horses is to butcher them, but it’s an Orwellian framing of the issue. The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. They don’t “euthanize” old horses—but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and inhumanely kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan.
When horse slaughter plants previously operated in the U.S., according to the USDA, 92.3 percent of the horses arrived healthy and in good condition. These are not the sick and lame and unwanted—they are horses that could have been rehomed and lived out a productive life. That is, if the “killer buyers” who gather horses from random sources and act as bunchers for the slaughter plants stop outbidding loving families and horse rescue groups at auctions, driving up the prices of healthy horses because they have the most meat and the most profit on their bones.
Horses are American icons and companions, and don’t deserve this grisly end. Americans don’t eat horses, and they don’t want them inhumanely killed, shrink-wrapped, and sent overseas for frozen lasagna or stallion-burgers. We should reject the horse slaughter industry, just as we would reject a slaughter industry for dogs or cats gathered up under false pretenses and killed for export.
With the Obama Administration allowing horse slaughter to proceed, despite its purported opposition to horse slaughter, it’s more urgent than ever that Congress step up and pull in the reins on this cruelty. Tell your members of Congress to pass the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, S. 541 and H.R. 1094, to stop the slaughter and export of horses for human consumption. Animal protection groups will be taking this matter to federal court immediately, to put a stop to this inhumane, wasteful, and illegal decision. We’ll also be working with state authorities to do all we can to block these plants from opening. The Obama Administration’s announcements are certainly not the last word on the subject.