Bipartisan bill would ban exports to slaughterhouses

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Scott Streater, E&E News

January 30, 2019

Bipartisan legislation introduced today would ban the destruction of wild horses for "human consumption," as well as prohibit the export of live horses to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico.

The bill — titled the "Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act" — is sponsored by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.).

Congress for years has added provisions to Interior Department appropriations bills that forbid the Bureau of Land Management from using euthanasia on healthy horses rounded up off of federal rangelands. Those provisions also limit BLM's ability to sell animals without limitations on their future use — such as to slaughterhouses.

But the appropriations language covers only Interior, and thus BLM; the Forest Service, which oversees management of about 8,000 wild horses and burros, is under the Department of Agriculture.

What's more, there is currently no federal law that prohibits transporting horses across American borders for slaughter in Canada or Mexico, according to press materials from Schakowsky and Buchanan.

The bill would prohibit "the knowing sale or transport of equines or equine parts in interstate or foreign commerce for purposes of human consumption."

It would also result in banning the slaughter of horses in this country for human consumption by declaring horse meat "unsafe" for consumption under federal law.

"Horses have a special place in our nation's history, and these majestic creatures were not raised as food for humans," Schakowsky said in a statement. "The SAFE Act would prohibit any horse slaughter plant from opening; and also end the sale or transport of horses and horse parts in the U.S. and abroad for the purpose of human consumption."

Buchanan added, "The slaughter of horses for human consumption is a barbaric practice that has no place in America."

Dealing with the 'statutory scheme'

The issue of wild horses being sent to slaughter is a sensitive one for the Interior Department.

BLM in 2014 put limits on the number of horses any individual can purchase after an investigation by ProPublica found BLM, beginning in 2009, had sold nearly 1,800 captive horses to a Colorado rancher and livestock hauler who could not account for the whereabouts of the animals he bought.

Interior's inspector general's office subsequently conducted an investigation of the rancher, who admitted that "probably close to all" of the horses he bought from BLM were sent to Mexican slaughterhouses (Greenwire, Oct. 23, 2015).

The issue once again garnered headlines this month after the Justice Department revealed in court documents that the Forest Service is considering selling about 165 wild horses currently in holding at California's Modoc National Forest without limitations on the future use of the animals — even if that means some horses could end up in slaughterhouses.

DOJ attorneys representing the Forest Service in a lawsuit challenging the roundup last fall of nearly 1,000 wild horses at Modoc wrote in a court filing last month that the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 "expressly allows" the agency to sell unadopted animals without limitation (Greenwire, Jan. 16).

The rounded-up horses at Modoc are being held at a corral built on the national forest site, and are thus not subject to the congressional appropriations language on unlimited sale that applies to Interior and BLM.

Even with the roundup last fall from the forest's Devil's Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory, there are still about 3,000 excess wild horses on the territory tearing up rangelands, DOJ attorneys wrote in the Dec. 20 motion opposing a request by animal rights groups that the court issue an injunction against the sale of any of the rounded-up horses.

The Forest Service has determined the maximum number of animals the 258,000-acre wild horse territory can sustain is 402.

"To be clear, nobody, including the Forest Service, desires to be part of the destruction of healthy wild horses, but, at times, it may be the only way the statutory scheme, as written, can actually work," DOJ wrote.

The court filing sparked outrage from animal rights and wild horse advocacy groups.

Unsafe or a delicacy?

The "SAFE Act" attempts to resolve the matter by making the slaughter, and presumed consumption, of wild horses a public health and safety issue.

The bill text states that wild horses "are not raised for the purpose of human consumption" and "are frequently treated with substances that are not approved for use in horses intended for human consumption."

Thus, "equine parts are therefore unsafe" as defined by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the bill states.

The bill adds that "consuming parts of an equine raised in the United States likely poses a serious threat to human health and the public should be protected from these unsafe products."

Yet thousands of American horses are sent to slaughter in Canada and Mexico each year, according to press material on the bill from Schakowsky and Buchanan. The butchered horses are then sent to "Japan, Italy and other countries," according to the press materials, where horse meat is considered a delicacy.

The "SAFE Act" drew praise from animal rights advocates.

"Americans across the political spectrum want to see these noble animals protected from needless, gruesome and inhumane deaths," Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute, said in a statement. "The SAFE Act would put a stop to the predatory and unsafe horse slaughter industry that butchers these animals for food."

Originally posted by E&E News