Proposed federal legislation would ban the export of American horses for slaughter, reinstitute a ban on slaughtering them in the U.S., and protect the public from consuming "toxic" horse meat.
The measure, called the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, comes after revelations that horse meat has been mislabeled as beef in Europe, including in IKEA meatballs.
Sponsors include Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Reps. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). The bill would outlaw the killing of American horses for human consumption and prohibit transporting the animals across the U.S. border for slaughter in Mexico and Canada.
Proponents of the bill contend that tens of thousands of American horses a year are exported for slaughter in a foreign industry that produces unsafe food for consumers.
A federal ban on slaughtering horses in the U.S. took effect in 2006, but the law lapsed in 2011, opening the door for a New Mexico company to open a slaughterhouse there soon.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its plan to process an application for inspecting horse slaughter at Valley Meat Company LLC in Roswell, N.M.
Valley Meat Company owner Rick de los Santos could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
But he told the Los Angeles Times in December that a new horse slaughterhouse in his state makes sense.
He said he was tired of sitting in southern New Mexico and watching countless truckloads of American horses en route to Mexico for slaughter.
"I've seen 130,000 horses a year on their way to Mexico — they go right through our backyard — and I wanted to tap into the market," he told The Times. "I could have hired 100 people by now. Everyone in our community agrees we need this type of service. And I'm tired of waiting."
De los Santos said then that he was ready to start killing horses humanely.
"Everything that has four legs that walks can be slaughtered the same way, but we're ready to do this humanely," he said. "We've upgraded our knocking chutes for giving them that lethal hit."
But animal advocates say when it comes to horse slaughter, there is no such thing as "humane."
“Horse slaughter is inherently inhumane," the Humane Society of the United States said in a statement. "The methods used to kill horses rarely result in quick, painless deaths, as horses often endure repeated stuns or blows and sometimes remain conscious during their slaughter and dismemberment."
The Humane Society said horses often are transported to the slaughterhouse "without food, water or rest, in dangerously overcrowded trailers" in which they are often seriously injured or killed.
Animal activists also say that domestic horses receive routine treatment with drugs that could be toxic to humans.
Some of the horses that wind up at foreign slaughterhouses come from the herds of wild mustangs that roam the American West. The Bureau of Land Management periodically gathers the horses off the range and sells them at auction — theoretically to those who want to adopt them. But so-called "kill buyers" come to auctions too.
“This is a bill whose time has come," Meehan said at a news conference Wednesday. "Until a ban is in place, every horse is just one bad sale away from being sent to slaughter.”
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