Congress should act to save horses from slaughterhouse

America was built on the backs of horses, and earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat, introduced the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 961, with Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Florida Republican, to end the slaughter of American horses.

The measure would prevent horse slaughter plants from operating in the U.S. and stop the export of horses across the border for the purpose of human consumption. Our iconic American equines were critical to the development of our nation and they don't deserve this end, and Americans should applaud both Schakowsky and Buchanan for their tireless work to help the horses.

If this bipartisan bill were given the opportunity for a vote, there is no doubt that it would pass. The SAFE Act garnered 219 co-sponsors in the U.S. House in the 115th Congress, and there is little doubt that even more of the House Members in the 116th Congress will support the bill that currently has 151 signed on.

A similar measure passed the House in 2006, and even Vice President Mike Pence, then a U.S. congressman from Indiana, was among the supermajority that voted for the legislation.

Back then, the U.S. Senate failed to bring the previously passed House bill to a vote to end horse slaughter, but with U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, now leading the charge in the Upper Chamber, we've seen the tide turn in the horses' favor.

Last year, the Senate Appropriations Committee, included language in their Agriculture Appropriations bill to defund horse slaughter inspections in the U.S., continuing the de facto ban on slaughtering horses here, and the new FY20 House Agriculture Appropriations package that will likely be voted on next week maintains the same ban.

The slaughter of American equines for human consumption claimed around 70,000 horses in 2018 - most of them perfectly healthy and fit to be companions, trail riders or competitors. It's unfortunate that even the winner of the 1986 Kentucky Derby, Ferdinand, fell victim to this predatory industry, and if one of the nation's most popular horses can be snatched up and forced into a kill chute, then no horse is safe. Many of Illinois' race horses wind up in the slaughter pipeline once they're no longer able to race or win prized events.

Horses are skittish flight animals, making humane slaughter impossible and leaving them vulnerable to injury when "kill buyers" haul them across long distances packed like sardines in horse trailers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture documented serious cruelty violations in plants previously operated in the United States prior to closure in 2007.

Millions of taxpayer funds were being wasted to "oversee" operations involving horses with broken bones and terrifying eye injuries in foreign-owned facilities on an annual basis prior to their closure. And it was the American taxpayer made to foot the bill. As our national debt continues to rise, Congress should be more mindful of our fiscal responsibility and prevent millions of tax dollars from funding the slaughter of American equines and propping up an egregious foreign-driven enterprise.

Most Americans want no part of this enterprise of supplying foreign diners with horse meat. We don't eat horse meat in America just as we don't eat dogs and cats, and last December the president signed the Farm Bill, which included a ban on dog and cat meat, into law.

In this time of political division, the bipartisan SAFE Act is a bill both parties can get behind. Hundreds of thousands of advocates are calling on the House Agriculture Committee - led by Chairman Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, and Ranking Member Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican, to work together to advance the bill to a vote. The measure would surely pass and fulfill the will of the American people - something that poll after poll has proven the overwhelming majority of Americans support. Congress should take action to finally end horse slaughter for good.

Marty Irby is executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C., an eight-time world champion equestrian rider and a past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' & Exhibitors' Association.

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