Op-Ed: Time To Amend the Current U.S. Dog and Cat Meat Ban To Include Horses

Animal Wellness Action is working to end the slaughter of American equines in the upcoming Farm Bill and take horse meat off the table

Marty Irby stands amidst mares and foals at Irby Farms in Flat Creek, Tennessee in 2013. Photo Credit: Marty Irby, Irby family archives.

By Marty Irby

America was built on the backs of horses, and in 2023, we stand a great chance at stopping the abuse of these magnificent animals. It’s time to take aim at ending the live export of horses to slaughter in Canada and Mexico to be served up as slabs of meat on dinner plates in countries like China and Japan.

In the late 1980s, roughly 350,000 American equines were funneled annually into the horse slaughter pipeline. Even the 1986 Kentucky Derby Ferdinand was slaughtered in Japan. Clearly no horse is safe from this predatory industry.

The good news is the number of horse sent to slaughter is in decline. Approximately 20,000 horses suffered that fate in 2022.

Chart from Animal Wellness Action and Animals’ Angels horse slaughter report showing the decline in horse slaughter.

Table from Animal Wellness Action and Animals’ Angels horse slaughter report showing the decline in horse slaughter.

Several factors contributed to the decline. First was a de facto ban on horse slaughter in the United States that resulted from a defunding of inspections on horse-slaughter plants. Without inspections, the plants could not operate and had to shutter.

Second was a moratorium placed on horse meat by the European Union after their audit revealed inhumane treatment of horses and high levels of toxic drug residues.

Third, is the support of key players endorsing the idea of halting slaughter, including The Jockey Club that has promoted aftercare of off-the-track Thoroughbreds.

Thoroughbred racing groups also joined in backing a 2021 anti-horse slaughter transportation amendment conceived by Animal Wellness Action and led by Reps. Troy Carter, D-LA, and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-NY, that passed the U.S. House by a voice vote. That measure would have codified the de facto ban and closed our borders to the international transportation of horses for slaughter. Even the parent companies to all three legs of the Triple Crown – Churchill Downs, The Stronach Group, and the New York Racing Association – backed the measure in a coalition of more than 200 groups. Unfortunately, the Senate failed to act, preserving the status quo.

Injuries from Animal Wellness Action and Animals’ Angels horse slaughter report showing the gruesome abuse slaughter-bound horses endure while being shipped to slaughter. Photo Credit: Animal Wellness Action and Animal’s Angels.

A bill to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption — known as the SAFE Act, led by Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-FL, Jan Schakowsky, D-IL, and Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, and Bob Menendez, D-NJ, – has been kicked around in Congress for nearly 15 years with little action. Its predecessor, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, passed the House in 2006 but failed to clear the Upper Chamber. That measure even garnered the support of former Vice President Mike Pence, then a representative from Indiana.

In 2023, during a Congress that must advance the Farm Bill – an opportunity that only arises every five years – we stand a chance at ending this blood-soaked industry. The timing comes just as Animal Wellness Action, Animals’ Angels, and the Center for a Humane Economy has released a damning investigation on American equines being transported to the border to be butchered for their meat. The report, at 34 pages and featuring more than 70 supporting photographs, provides a chilling look inside the business of foreign slaughter of American equines.

In the previous Farm Bill, enacted in 2018, Animal Wellness Action helped secure a ban on the slaughter of dog and cats in America and the transport of those animals for that purpose. That same logic should drive the Congress to halt the slaughter of horses for human consumption. They are not raised for food, and Americans have no appetite for their meat. We can amend the existing statute to include equines, and that’s exactly what we’re planning to do.

Poll after poll has shown that more than 80 percent of Americans oppose horse slaughter. Horses are transported long distances to slaughter plants without food, water, or rest and become seriously injured or die during the journey. As flight animals, more so than cattle or pigs, horses are especially skittish and much more likely to become injured or stressed during the transport and slaughter process. Americans don’t want their tax dollars paying to enrich foreign meat companies, and they understand that slaughter is a a cruel and terrifying end for the horses who become victims of this predatory enterprise.

The effort to end horse slaughter is heavily supported by both Republicans and Democrats, and it’s a win-win for horses and taxpayers alike. House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders and the rest of Congress should listen to the American people and bring an end to this egregious abuse by including the ban on horse slaughter in the Farm Bill.

Please call Members of Congress today at 202-224-3121 and ask them to include a ban on horse slaughter in the upcoming Farm Bill by amending the current dog and cat meat ban to include horses.

Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C., and an 8-time world champion equestrian who was honored in 2020 by the late Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for his work to protect horses. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @MartyIrby.