RTF urges House members to pass horse slaughter ban

Photo of Windflyer taken at RTF’s Lompoc, Calif., headquarters sanctuary by Meg Frederick.

What follows is written testimony by RTF President Neda DeMayo to the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce. The subcommittee is set to hold a hearing on Thursday, May 26, to consider bills that include the Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act of 2021 (H.R. 3355) and the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (H.R. 5441).

Chairman Schakowsky, Ranking Member Bilirakis and distinguished members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present testimony in support of the Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act of 2021 (H.R. 3355) and the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (H.R. 5441). The SAFE Act would finally place a permanent ban on horse slaughter in the United States and the export of American horses for slaughter, while the PAST Act aims to eliminate the failed system of industry self-policing, strengthen penalties against the soring of horses and ban devices that are integral to the soring process.  For the purposes of this statement, we will focus on the SAFE Act.

My name is Neda DeMayo, and I am the founder and president of Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation (RTF): a national nonprofit wild horse and burro advocacy organization. As a lifetime equestrian and advocate against horse slaughter, I first became involved in the wild horse issue in 1994 and incorporated Return to Freedom in 1997. A year later, RTF founded its American Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lompoc, Calif.

RTF has worked to end horse slaughter of over 20 years alongside our representative in Washington, D.C., Chris Heyde, who initiated the national campaign to end horse slaughter in 2001 and continues to actively lead efforts before Congress on this important bill.  He is one of the few working on this issue to have been inside an operating horse slaughter facility in the United States, followed trucks hauling horses to Mexico and Canada and gone undercover in auctions selling horses to slaughter across the United States. His efforts have shown the urgent need to end this cruel practice and refute the excuses put forward to defend it. I am submitting for the record an article that Chris wrote for us marking the 20thanniversary of the bill which was February 14thof this year.

RTF works to meet the immediate needs of rescue and sanctuary for wild horses and burros while striving to provide humane, non-lethal solutions to preserve wild horses in free-ranging herds. RTF has played an active role in the rescue and rehoming of more than 2,000 at-risk horses and burros. We now care for more than 450 wild horses and burros at our sanctuary’s three California locations – horses and burros that might have otherwise fallen into the foreign slaughter pipeline.

Our sanctuary has provided us with the opportunity to share the story of America’s wild horses and burros, from their legacy as a reintroduced native species to the challenges that they face. Some sanctuary visitors are surprised that there are still wild horses and burros roaming our public lands, but there is no doubt why people of all ages continue to visit: Americans have an unwavering bond with the descendants of the horses that have helped build our country and shape our culture.

Horse slaughter is the ultimate betrayal of that bond.

With the support of Congress, advocates have succeeded in keeping horse slaughter plants closed within our borders since 2007, the foreign slaughter pipeline remains a shameful open secret for a horse-loving country such as ours.

That an unknown number of wild horses and burros – animals that are federally protected while roaming our public lands – are among those sent to slaughter each year adds further insult to injury. It is an insult to the taxpayers who have invested so much into our wild herds in the more than 50 years since Congress unanimously passed the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (Act) out of concern for their dwindling numbers.

Congressional appropriators have repeatedly told the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) that they cannot sell captured wild horses and burros without protections against slaughter. Yet, wild equines are among those that die in foreign slaughterhouses each year.

How can that be? Because once title is passed from the BLM or USFS, immediately to buyers and after one year to adopters, wild horses and burros lose their federal protections and are no longer tracked by the agencies. The agencies are allowed to sell a wild horse or burro ages 10-older or that has been passed over for adoption three times, a change made to the Act without public knowledge and something RTF has worked to reverse.

As for adoptions: In 2019, the BLM created an Adoption Incentive Program (AIP) that pays adopters $1,000 per wild horse or burro in an effort to reduce off-range holding costs. This has resulted in adopters holding wild horses or burros for a year, collecting the cash, then auctioning off horses or burros at places where known kill buyers are waiting.

RTF has urged the BLM to address public and congressional concerns about the safety of adopted wild horses and burros. While some changes have been made to AIP, more must be done to protect captured wild horses and burros from having their lives handed over to people willing to make a quick buck from their deaths, abusive homes or even well-meaning adopters that cannot afford a horse or burro – all ways that they can end up in the slaughter pipeline.

It must be stressed that wild horses and burros are captured and removed from the range and placed at risk of slaughter by federal mismanagement that has stretched over decades. In the absence of predators, the BLM (as well as USFS) continues to try and fail to meet low, arbitrary population targets by capturing and removing wild horses and burros while scarcely implementing proven, safe and humane fertility control. As a result, thousands of wild horses and burros are removed from their home ranges each year in controversial and often deadly helicopter roundups.

Please keep in mind: More than 90 percent of horses – domestic and wild – exported for slaughter are in good condition, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study. These are healthy animals enduring terror, trauma and pain in crowded trailers bound for Mexico and Canada. Then, on the killing floor, horses can have their throats cut while fully conscious.

That is unacceptable and un-American.

And yet, it has been more than 20 years since the first bill to ban horse slaughter was introduced, only to be reintroduced over and over again. In the time since:

  • Voters from both parties have repeatedly voiced overwhelming opposition to horse slaughter. As recently as December, a poll found that 83 percent of Americans oppose it. This is opposition that holds strong regardless of political affiliation.
  • Congress has consistently supported language in annual Agriculture Appropriations bills blocking horse slaughter; however, this de facto ban does nothing to protect thousands of American horses shipped to foreign slaughterhouses each year.
  • Support for this legislation within Congress is strong, with 215 bipartisan House cosponsors as of today.
  • Attention to equine aftercare and retirement has greatly improved and the number of quality rescues continues to grow.
  • The number of horses exported for slaughter has plummeted from more than 166,000 per year in 2012 to 23,431 in 2021, thus exposing false claims of “unwanted horses” flooding the system should slaughter and the export of horses for slaughter be banned.

This is not some thriving business employing many. Rather, it is one in which an unscrupulous few continue to profit from cruelty by irresponsibly sending unwanted healthy animals to an ugly, undeserved death – while also threatening human life because of the many veterinary medications that American horses routinely receive.

It is time to end this ongoing tragedy out of respect for the lasting connection that our country has had with the horse – in work and at war and in play – and out of concern for both horses and human health.

I strongly urge you to be part of a proud new chapter for America’s horses by advancing this popular bipartisan bill.

Take Action: Call for an end to horse slaughter and the export of horses for slaughter: Send a letter to Congress.