Pass the SAFE Act: It’s time to shut down the horse slaughter pipeline

Stallions at RTF’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary. Photo by Meg Frederick.

During 2019, a total of 64,433 American horses were shipped to their deaths — 53,947 to Mexico and 10,486  to Canada.

While those numbers are horrific, horse exports for slaughter have continued their steady decline from a 19-year high of 166,572 in 2012.

That decline is all the more reason for Congress to end the inhumane work of kill buyers, yet the 2007 shuttering of the last horse slaughterhouse in the United States has done nothing to keep our horses from foreign killing floors or decrease the risk to human health from eating horse meat.

Return to Freedom has worked hard to ensure a “defund amendment” is included in federal funding bills. This language prohibits the U.S. Department of Agriculture cannot use tax dollars to hire horse-meat inspectors. That has created an effective year-to-year ban on horse slaughter — but only within U.S. borders.

Our focus has always been on the passage of a permanent federal ban that not only stops horse slaughter in the United States but bars the export of our horses for slaughter.

The slaughter pipeline

More than 1.5 million American horses — an average of 83,379 per year — were trucked to slaughter plants in Mexico and Canada from 2001-19.

The terror, trauma and pain that horses endure in transport to slaughterhouses and on the killing floor – where they have been documented to have their throats cut while they are fully conscious – is unacceptable.

Horses have played a critical role in U.S. history and American culture. They remain our companions and partners in competition, work and recreation, and those that roam our public lands remain a symbol of freedom throughout the world.

Should federal meat inspector funding be reinstated, protections for horses would be poor at best. Some states, like California, Illinois, New Jersey and Texas, have horse slaughter and horse-meat sale bans, but others require only that horse meat be labeled.

And while the American public has shown no taste for horse meat and in surveys expresses strong opposition to the slaughter of horses, with more than 80 percent consistently opposed, a number of companies have applied to open slaughterhouses in recent years in order to meet demand in countries that include Mexico, Japan, France, and Belgium.

Because American horses are not raised to be eaten, they frequently are given medications banned for human consumption by the USDA and European Union.

No regulations require the sharing of information about substances previously ingested by a horse up for auction. There, horses are often purchased by kill buyers with the intent on sending them to slaughter.

More than 90 percent of these exported horses are in “good” condition, according to a USDA study.

Wild horses and burros at risk

The tens of thousands of horses shipped abroad for slaughter include an unknown number of mustangs.

Under a 2004 sale authority law, commonly called the “Burns Amendment,” the Bureau of Land Management is directed to sell “without limitation” wild horses age 10 and older or younger horses who have not been adopted after three tries.

BLM has sold more than 5,900 wild horses and burros since 2005. Those sold between 2005 and 2010 went for an average of just $17 apiece.

Congress has made clear that BLM is not to sell to known kill buyers; however, even if the agency abides by the law, the threat of slaughter looms.

Once title is given to the wild horse’s new owner, it loses its protected status. Likewise, after an adopter receives title after one year, a former wild horse or burro can be sold and end up auctioned off to a kill buyer.

Ending slaughter

You can help spare American horses by joining Return to Freedom in demanding that Congress pass the bipartisan Safeguard American Foods Exports Act or SAFE Act (H.R. 961 / S. 2006), which would ban both slaughter and the transportation of horses for slaughter.

Doing so will reduce health risks to human beings and prevent the needless suffering of America’s equines – including wild horses and burros.