Only an annual budget proviso keeps USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service from providing equine slaughterhouse inspections. Without USDA inspection, horses cannot be slaughtered in the U.S. for human consumption.
Whether or not the proviso gets included in each year’s annual federal budget has almost been like a flip-of-the coin decision, something accomplished mostly out of sight inside the annual federal budget process without churning up much of the controversy surrounding the topic.
But now, the congressional option to permanently ban horse slaughter in the United States may finally come to pass. That’s because the Democrats control both ends of Congress and there might also be enough Republicans favoring the ban to push it over the top. Its backers say bipartisan majorities are building for the ban with 2021 passage likely.
The permanent ban, known as the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act hasn’t yet been introduced in the 117th Congress, but it’s been around for more than a decade, and Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-IL, and Vern Buchanan, R-FL, have every intention as sponsors to tee it up again.
There is a budget proviso in place for 2021 prohibiting USDA from providing equine inspections. Like the language from 2007 that forced Dallas Crown in Kaufman, TX, and Cavel International in DeKalb, IL, to shut down the last horse slaughterhouses in the United States, restrictions placed in USDA’s annual budget simply prohibited using federal funds to pay for equine inspections.
Belgian-owned Cavel briefly resumed operations while an appeal played out, but horse slaughter in the U.S. ceased on Sept.21, 2007. Without USDA inspection, horses cannot be slaughtered for human consumption in the United States.
The USDA did try to substitute private fees for federal funds, but courts knocked the idea down. Quickly, the only place where legal horse slaughter could be found in the United States was in the history books.
But then In 2011, the annual budget proviso was dropped by Congress. It opened a 3-year period when USDA actively recruited equine operators. It came up with about five prospects but could not find one that was well enough funded. The annual budget proviso with the ban was then reinstated in 2014.
Based on its earlier failed versions, the SAFE Act likely will include these provisions:
- Amends the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to outlaw horse slaughter in the United States.
- Stop exports of horses for human consumption. About 150,000 horses are exported annually, mostly to Canada, and Mexico.
- Makes it illegal to process horses for human consumption.
- Prohibits the sale or interstate transportation of horses if such shipments are intended for human consumption.
This Act would effectively shut down the export of horses to Canada and Mexico as well as any interstate merchandising of horsemeat for human consumption. The bill depicts horse meat as tainted and unsafe, in part on the basis that horses are not raised commercially for food and may have had drugs like phenylbutazone administered to them.
The SAFE Act would either stop or force underground, shipments from the United States of thousands of horses to Canada and Mexico where horse slaughter for the world market remains significant. Many of the 54,000 horses slaughtered in Canada in 2016 were transported from the United States. And USDA Market News Livestock Export Summary reported that 53,947 horses were shipped from the United States to Mexico for slaughter in 2019. Those numbers have been higher in recent years.
The SAFE Act last year piled up a huge majority in the House but did not get a vote in the Senate. That’s pretty much been its legislative history. The 117th Congress may see the SAFE Act finally reach ignition. In the last Congress, it had 238 House co-sponsors.