WASHINGTON—Today, 202 veterinarians sent a letter to the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary expressing support for the Save America’s Forgotten Equines Act, H.R. 3355/S. 2732, federal legislation to permanently prohibit the slaughter of American horses for human consumption.
The Animal Welfare Institute, Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association coordinated the letter, which was signed by veterinarians from across the country. It underscores the tremendous support that exists among veterinarians for protecting equines from the myriad of abuses that are associated with the horse slaughter industry—from cramming horses into trailers and transporting them on long journeys without adequate food, water or rest, to improperly rendering horses unconscious (stunning) before they are slaughtered for food.
“The continued existence of the horse slaughter industry—which claims the lives of tens of thousands of American horses each year and subjects these animals to serious mistreatment—is directly incompatible with safeguarding equine welfare,” the veterinarians stated. “Additionally, the practice of horse slaughter poses significant public safety risks due to the potential for tainted meat to enter into the food supply.”
Among the veterinarians who signed the letter are Dr. Nicholas Dodman, renowned veterinary behaviorist and professor emeritus of behavioral pharmacology and animal behavior at Tufts University; Dr. Ray Powell, former New Mexico commissioner of public lands who publicly opposed proposals to open a horse slaughterhouse in New Mexico; and Dr. Jeff Blea, past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
"As a national wild horse organization fighting to protect both wild and domestic horses from the cruel and predatory horse slaughter industry, while also directly caring for over 500 wild horses and burros, we are grateful for the strong voice these veterinarians are lending to the fight to end horse slaughter," said Neda DeMayo, founder and president of Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation. "We rely on their knowledge in caring for our horses at the sanctuary and that compassion for equine welfare clearly shows up in the large number of ethical veterinarians taking a stand in this letter."
Horse slaughter facilities do not currently operate in the United States due to provisions included in annual appropriations legislation, which prohibit the use of federal funds to inspect them. But these directives apply only to the given fiscal year and must be renewed annually by Congress for the prohibition to stay in effect. Moreover, they do not prevent the slaughter of American horses outside the United States.
In addition to permanently making the slaughter of horses in the United States illegal, the SAFE Act would close the loophole that allows the continued export of tens of thousands of horses each year to be butchered across our borders.
“Only a decade ago, over 160,000 American horses were exported abroad for slaughter. Due to awareness of this inhumane and predatory industry, that number has dropped dramatically with just over 23,000 shipped to slaughter in 2021. But one horse is still too many,” said Tracie Letterman, vice president of federal affairs for Humane Society Legislative Fund. “As the capacity for placing horses through adoption, sale and sanctuary has grown significantly, now is the ideal time to reduce the number of American horses sent to slaughter to zero. Congress should heed the appeals of these veterinarians and so many of us demanding an end to this grisly industry for good.”
Before the last U.S.-based horse slaughter facilities shut down in 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture documented numerous welfare and humane handling violations at slaughterhouses. Moreover, American horses routinely receive a wide array of medications and treatments that are expressly prohibited by the Food and Drug Administration for use at any time during the life of animals slaughtered for human consumption due to their toxicity to humans.
National polling consistently shows that Americans overwhelmingly support ending horse slaughter, including a poll this year finding that 83% of Americans want to see it permanently banned.
“The slaughter of American horses for human consumption in foreign markets continues to exist mostly to accommodate industry participants who exploit horses for money and prestige. Shipping horses, who are naturally skittish, long distances in packed trailers to a slaughterhouse where they will be crowded together in chutes to be pushed toward their death is the antithesis of humane euthanasia,” said Dr. Lorna Grande, program director for advocacy and outreach for the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. “Horses deserve better. Greedy industries will continue to take advantage of slaughter as long as this easy, out of sight, out of mind ‘disposal’ exists.”
A ban on horse slaughter passed the House of Representatives in 2021 as part of the transportation and infrastructure package, but the Senate did not adopt similar language in its version of the bill. A House subcommittee unanimously approved the SAFE Act in June. Since then, however, progress on the bill has stalled despite strong bipartisan support.
“We call on Congress to listen to the many veterinarians who can speak with authority on the total disregard for horse welfare during the transport, handling and slaughter process,” said Dr. Joanna Grossman, equine program manager and senior advisor at AWI. “No horse deserves this miserable fate, and it is completely unacceptable that each year tens of thousands are shipped across the border to be butchered, despite widespread public opposition.”