Most Americans may cringe at the thought of eating horse
meat, but an effort to ban the slaughter of horses to send the
meat abroad is having trouble getting through Congress.
The only two U.S. plants currently processing horses for
human food are in Texas, where a law prohibiting the practice is
being challenged in a federal lawsuit. An Illinois plant
destroyed by fire two years ago is trying to reopen amid
A bill proposing to prohibit the slaughter, trade or
transport of horses for human consumption has the support of
more than half the U.S. House _ 225 Democrats and Republicans,
enough to pass the legislation. But bill supporters are looking
to the Senate to move the bill, possibly in agriculture
appropriations, to force the measure into conference committee
But the effort has been stymied by opposition from the two
most powerful members of the House Agriculture Committee,
chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, and ranking
Democrat Charlie Stenholm, a Texas Democrat. The bottom line in
the debate is whether "you believe horse meat should be
used for human consumption," Stenholm said.
"If you are opposed to the slaughter of horses for human
consumption, fine," he said. "I do believe that since
there are peoples of the world who are hungry and need the food
and do consume it and do so under humane inspection" that
horse slaughterhouses should not be banned.
Last year, 50,564 horses were slaughtered in the United
States, according to the Agriculture Department. The total so
far this year is 24,441.
Fort Worth-based Beltex and Kaufman-based Dallas Crown accept
horses from throughout the country for slaughter. Belgium-based
Cavel International Inc. is rebuilding its plant in DeKalb, Ill.
The largest markets for U.S. horse meat are France and
Belgium, which distribute the meat to other countries, including
Italy, Holland, Mexico and Japan, according to the Animal
Lawyers for the Texas plants argue that a 1949 state law
banning horse meat does not apply to their operations because
the meat is exported. But a 2002 opinion by then-Texas Attorney
General John Cornyn, now a U.S. senator, declared state law does
The plants sued in federal court, arguing that the state law
is superseded by federal regulation of interstate commerce. A
federal judge got the case in December 2003, and his ruling is
Even if the judge closes the plants, The Humane Society of
the United States and other groups say a federal ban is still
"It's perfectly appropriate for the United States to ban
a practice that has no domestic market," said Wayne Pacelle,
CEO of the Humane Society. "Americans don't eat horses and
they consider the animal a companion animal more than an
The issue crosses party lines in Congress. It also has been
divisive among horse breeders, racers and veterinarians, and
triggered debate in the Texas and Illinois legislatures.
The bill sponsors _ Rep. John Sweeney of New York and Sen.
John Ensign, a Nevada veterinarian _ are Republicans. Nine Texas
Democrats co-sponsor the bill, but no Texas Republicans have
signed on to it.
Supporters of the ban include state racing associations,
animal welfare groups, thoroughbred horse associations, musician
Paul McCartney and actress Bo Derek.
Opponents include the American Veterinary Medical
Association, Amarillo-based American Quarter Horse Association,
the American Farm Bureau, cattleman associations and livestock
Both sides argue that their position is more humane.
Pacelle said horses going to slaughter are often are
transported long distances in trailers not meant for horses.
"It's thoroughly inhumane to transport these horses long
distances and then slaughter them in settings that cause them
tremendous agitation and suffering," Pacelle said.
But Mike Chaddock, director of government relations for the
American Veterinary Medical Association, said a slaughter ban
would lead to horses dying inhumanely in pastures. Turning
horses over to animal welfare groups or sanctuaries is not an
option because the groups and government can't afford to pay for
"If these animals cannot go to slaughter humanely and
can't and go to some facility, where is that money going to come
from?" Chaddock said.
Pacelle called such arguments a smokescreen. He said
opponents are concerned the ban will lead to other livestock
bans, which he said is "a politically impossible
"No one should be under the illusion that the passage of
a horse slaughter ban would trigger any other reform in the
livestock industry," he said.
The American Slaughter Prevention Act bill numbers are: S2352
On the Net: To look up legislation: http://thomas.loc.gov
The Humane Society of the United States: http://www.hsus.org
American Veterinary Medical Association: http://www.avma.org