WASHINGTON — Horse meat production won’t resume in the U.S. anytime soon, a victory for animal rights advocates under the spending bill signed last week by President Donald Trump.
The $1.3 trillion spending deal, which funds the government through September, renewed the country’s horse slaughter ban. Just months ago, animal activists feared the ban could be in jeopardy.
The measure includes language that prohibits the U.S. Department of Agriculture from spending money on inspecting horse slaughter facilities. Without inspections, horse slaughter plants can’t operate, so they’ll remain closed as they have for more than a decade.
“I think we’re all kind of shocked that the bill turned out as well as it did,” said Nancy Blaney, government affairs director for the Animal Welfare Institute. “We were expecting so many bad possibilities.”
Animal activists, who say the slaughtering of horses is an inhumane way to dispose of unwanted animals, were worried in July after the House Appropriations Committee approved an agriculture spending bill that would lift the ban that has been in place since 2006. The full House then ratified that shift in policy.
Racing against the clock
A temporary ban on horse slaughter was set to expire Friday, until it was inserted into the budget. Congress had passed similar language every year since 2005, but in 2011, lawmakers dropped the ban from its annual USDA budget. Animal rights groups fought successfully in court in 2013 to block slaughterhouses from reopening, and Congress reinstated the inspector ban in 2014.
Although lawmakers renewed the ban under the spending measure, animal activists again are racing against the clock. Friday’s bill is only temporary, which is why some lawmakers and advocates are pushing for a permanent legislative solution.
“That’s why we really work to consider authorizing legislation banning horse slaughter as one of our priority pieces of legislation,” Ryan Ososki, policy advisor for the Animal Welfare Institute, said. “So you have a permanent solution to this problem without having to go through the appropriations process every year.”
Activists have found a friend in Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Florida Republican who proposed an amendment last year to block funding for horse slaughter facility inspections. He authored the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, a measure that would prohibit the export of horses to Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses.
Buchanan, co-chair of the bipartisan Animal Protection Caucus, led the effort to ensure that the ban be included in the spending deal. Twenty lawmakers signed his letter to key congressional leaders, writing that “horse slaughter threatens public health, is strongly opposed by the vast majority of Americans, has no American market and benefits foreign interests.”
Buchanan has pushed for his horse export measure for years. The bill has more than 200 co-sponsors, including seven Texas Democrats, but it has yet to receive a hearing. The estimates that more than 100,000 horses are sent across the border to be slaughtered in Mexico or Canada each year.
“The slaughter of horses for human consumption is a barbaric practice that must end,” Buchanan said in a statement Monday.
And the Humane Society, which supports Buchanan’s bill, says public opinion is on their side. A 2012 poll by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found that 80 percent of Americans oppose the slaughter of horses for human consumption.
Although a horse slaughter ban has the support of some Texans, the delegation is divided. In 2015, Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas was among 13 Republicans who urged House leaders to legalize slaughter in budget negotiations with the Senate. The other side prevailed, and the ban has remained in place.
And in July, all four Texans on the House appropriations panel — Republicans John Carter of Round Rock, Kay Granger of Fort Worth, and John Culberson of Houston, and Democrat Henry Cuellar of Laredo — sided with the pro-slaughter forces.
Supporters of domestic horse meat production argue that disposing of unwanted horses by cremation or landfill is costly. Owners can get up to $700 for selling an animal to a slaughterhouse across the border, while disposing in a landfill can cost several hundred dollars. Cremation costs up to $1,000.
But animal activists say that’s part of the cost of owning a horse.
“Our feeling is that people who own horses have to take responsibility for them in life and in death,” Blaney said. “If the horse has to be destroyed for some reason…while there’s an expense to that, there’s an expense to keeping a horse.”