Letter to the Editor from Marty Irby

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America was built on the backs of horses, and this month, U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) introduced the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 961, to end the slaughter of our iconic American equines. The measure prohibits the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption. Horses have played an unmeasurable role in our culture and in building our modern-day society, and they don't deserve this end.

The bipartisan SAFE Act garnered 219 cosponsors in the House in the previous Congress. An even larger majority of the newly elected House undoubtedly supports this legislation, perhaps as many as two-thirds of them. More than a decade ago, a similar measure passed the House, and even Vice-President Mike Pence, then a U.S. Congressman from Indiana, was among the super-majority supporting the bill.

The Senate also has shown an willingness to end horse slaughter, with U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Tom Udall (D-NM) leading the charge in the Upper Chamber. In fact, last year, the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by my home state Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), included language in their Agriculture Appropriations to defund horse slaughter inspections in the U.S., making it impossible to slaughter horses here.

The slaughter of American equines for human consumption claimed around 70,000 horses in 2018–most of them perfectly healthy, and fit to be utilized for recreation, or competition. We don't eat horse meat in America just as we don't eat dogs and cats (Congress banned the slaughter of Dogs and Cats for human consumption in the Farm Bill and President Trump signed that measure into law in December). Horse slaughter is a cruel and terrifying end for the horses, and these creatures have done nothing to warrant this kind of mistreatment and crass exploitation.

In 2012, a report showed that approximately 19% of horses sent to slaughter were Thoroughbreds, but there does not appear to be much data on the numbers since then. Due to the efforts of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and increasing anti-horse slaughter policies at many of America's racetracks, the numbers have most certainly declined, and we applaud their work. But there's still room for work to prevent slaughter by supporting the SAFE Act.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture documented serious cruelty violations in plants previously operated in the United States prior to closure in 2007. Millions of taxpayer funds were being wasted to “oversee” operations involving horses with broken bones and terrifying eye injuries in foreign-owned facilities on an annual basis prior to their closure.

As our national debt continues to rise, and the taxpayer continues to foot the bill, Congress should be more mindful of our fiscal responsibility and prevent millions of tax dollars from funding the slaughter of horses and propping up an egregious foreign-driven enterprise.

Most Americans want no part of this enterprise of supplying foreign diners with horse slabs. Even Ferdinand, the winner of the 1986 Kentucky Derby, fell victim to this predatory industry, and that's just not acceptable. If one of the nation's most popular horses is prodded into a kill chute, then no horse is safe.

In this time of political division, the SAFE Act is a bill both parties can get behind. Hundreds of thousands of advocates are calling on the House Agriculture and Energy and Commerce Committees–that have joint jurisdiction over the issue–led by Chairmen Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and Ranking Members Greg Walden (R-OR) and Mike Conaway (R-TX) to work together to advance the bill to vote. The measure would surely pass and fulfill the will of the people–something that poll after poll have proven more than 80% of Americans support.

The U.S. House of Representatives can take first action on this bill. We hope you'll support this effort and call your legislators at 202-224-3121 to ask them to cosponsor the SAFE Act, H.R. 961, or take action immediately by clicking here.

Marty Irby

Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C., eight-time world champion rider, and a past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' & Exhibitors' Association.

 

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