By Chris Heyde, RTF lobbyist
I never imagined I would still be fighting to end horse slaughter, but as the classic Beatles song goes, it was 20 years ago today that our first federal bill aiming to ban horse slaughter was introduced in the US House of Representatives by then-Rep. Connie Morella, R-Maryland. The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 3781) was a straightforward ban on the slaughter of American horses for human consumption or their export for the same purpose. It came as the result of visits I took to the New Holland Livestock Auction in Pennsylvania after hearing about what was happening there from a friend and colleague, Liz Clancy Ross. Ross had visited the auction where horses, many of them quite healthy, were being bought by unscrupulous “killer buyers” who were then trucking them to slaughter. Three U.S.-based, foreign-owned plants (a fourth in Nebraska had recently closed) were brutally slaughtering these majestic animals and exporting the meat to high-end diners in Europe and Asia. Horses were trucked over the border for slaughter there. Additionally, in order to meet the demand, horses were imported into the United States from Canada and Mexico for slaughter as well as exported to those countries, as they are today, for the same purpose.
I had to see for myself and subsequently visited the auction on multiple occasions. What I witnessed was heartbreaking, but I knew I had to follow the trail further. I arranged to visit the Cavel International slaughterhouses in DeKalb, Illinois – something nobody else had done. My report, attached here from the Animal Welfare Institute Quarterly, speaks of the unthinkably cruel treatment horses endured there. I had seen the suffering with my own eyes, and I knew the only remedy was a complete ban on horse slaughter. Ross and I began drafting legislation and, soon after, Rep. Morella agreed to introduce the bill.
As we visited with lawmakers to recruit Congressional support for Rep. Morella’s bill, we continued to build a vast library of knowledge about horse slaughter. We collaborated with grassroots activists to track horses going to the domestic plants and across our borders into Canada and Mexico. We partnered with wonderful people providing rescue and sanctuary to horses in need. We made close ties with residents and officials adjacent to the U.S. plants who strongly opposed their presence. We befriended experts who shared their knowledge about horses and the suffering they endured. We spoke to those with hands-on knowledge of the transport issues involved (the horses were being moved on double-deck trailers designed for cattle and pigs – a practice we eventually outlawed for horses going to slaughter). We spoke with horse owners, with veterinarians, and with the American public. In short, we built an incredibly strong campaign to end the slaughter of American horses.
Support for banning slaughter caught on like wildfire. Hundreds of our elected officials on Capitol Hill signed their names to the bill. It also touted enormous support in the horse racing industry, and with general horse owners, business moguls, high-profile athletes, and scores upon scores of celebrities. Press interest ran high. After a few years, the energy around the issue finally caught the eye of other animal welfare organizations that joined the fight. And yet, opponents claimed that horse slaughter was a “necessary evil” to dispose of “unwanted” horses. The quagmire grew thick. While public support for a ban continued to grow, the bill got stuck in the mud. In short, our horses continued to suffer the horror of slaughter at the expense of petty politics. Today, a full ban remains elusive.
That is not to say that there has not been tremendous progress in the meantime. By discovering and enforcing an existing 1949 state law in Texas, two plants there were closed. The Belgian-owned Cavel International plant in Illinois was shuttered after I worked with state legislators (including then-state Sen. Barack Obama) on the first outright state legislative ban on horse slaughter. Unfortunately, the transport of horses to slaughter comes under federal regulation, making state-level policy only a temporary solution.
While a vast network of horse rescue facilities and sanctuaries continues to grow, today there are very few Americans unaware of horse slaughter. Congressional support for a ban remains high and vocal opponents of a ban are thankfully few and far between, though still lurking in the shadows. Those who once cried that a ban on horse slaughter would lead to a flood of “unwanted horses” across the fields of America, who said a ban would cause horse abuse and neglect to rise, have been proven wrong. Yes, American horses still go to slaughter – across the border to Canada and Mexico – but the numbers have declined significantly with each passing year. Last year, fewer American horses were slaughtered than ever before, but one horse lost to this industry is one too many. Americans have spoken loudly and clearly. The American people oppose the inhumane slaughter of this country’s horses, period. Twenty years later, the case for ending horse slaughter in America is stronger than ever, and it is time for Congress to pass our bill into law.
Let’s make the 20thyear of our campaign to end horse slaughter the last year! While support for the bill is high – both in Congress and among the public – that isn’t translating into action by our elected officials. They need to know that passing the Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act (S. 2732 and H.R. 3355) is a top priority. We need them to cosponsor the bill AND demand action on it before the relevant committees and on the floor of the House and Senate now. This is an election year, so make your voices heard by attending or calling into your legislators’ town hall events to voice your support for the SAFE Act and remind them how important this bill is to their constituents.
Please be sure to call, email, send a handwritten letter to your legislators, post on social media, tell your friends, write a letter to the editor of your local paper, and participate in town hall meetings as often as possible.
TAKE ACTION: Dial (202) 224-3121 and ask for your representative’s or one of your senator’s offices. Let the staff member answering know that you are a constituent and that you’re calling to urge the congressperson or senator to support legislation to ban horse slaughter (H.R. 3355 for your representative, S. 2732 for your senators). Not sure who your representatives are? Click here.