SAFE Act Threatens Equine Welfare

SAFE Act Would Prohibit Humane Horse Processing

The deceptively titled, animal rights driven Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act is legislation that would not only completely outlaw horse processing plants in the U.S., but also prohibit the shipping of American horses to be processed abroad. The SAFE Act is based on the entirely false but widely promoted assertion that American horse meat is unsafe for human consumption.

Animal Rights Groups Announce Growing Support for the SAFE Act

The SAFE Act has been introduced in every Congress since 2013, but made little progress, usually dying in committee. On February 4, 2019 the SAFE Act was again introduced to Congress 2019 as H.R.961, by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL). On March 1, 2019, the bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture by the Committee on Agriculture. Then, in early December, animal rights groups announced that 218 representatives—more than half of the House– have officially agreed to vote in favor of the SAFE Act should it come to the floor for a vote.

SAFE Supporters Purposely Mislead the Public

The animal rights movement has gained traction toward banning horse processing by relying on the general public’s well-meaning but romanticized and highly anthropomorphic view of the horse. Animal rights groups have purposely misled the public with the emotional and illogical stance that horses somehow cannot be humanely processed for consumption, even while other large livestock animals, including exotic animals such as bison and elk, can. In doing so they are ignoring the fact that horses have been humanely euthanized and processed for human consumption for thousands of years. They also ignore the fact that the penetrating captive bolt gun utilized in modern horse processing plants is deemed to be humane by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Closing of Domestic Plants Created Equine Welfare Crisis

The last horse processing facilities in the US were closed in 2007. Ironically, this, combined with an economic downturn, created an equine welfare crisis. A 2011 United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) report showed a dramatic increase in cases of neglect, abandonment, and abuse of horses following the closure of domestic plants.

Horse “Rescue” Simply Cannot Keep Up with the Numbers of Unwanted Horses

Not surprisingly, even with the option of foreign processing still available, the “rescue” network foolishly lauded by animal rights groups as a replacement to humane processing, simply could not absorb the excess of unwanted horses. The primary reasons for failure were:

  • Insufficient funding
  • A shortage of physical space to house tens of thousands of large livestock animals
  • A severe lack of actual hands-on experience with horses on the part of would-be rescuers

Unfortunately, these factors have not changed since domestic processing plants in the United States closed. Should the option of foreign processing be removed via the SAFE Act, the overall welfare of our nation’s horses would undoubtedly decline dramatically, as demonstrated by the 2011 GAO report.

Processing Ban Would Affect All Branches of the Horse Industry

Statistics show that horses of all breeds and purposes are sent to be processed. While the exact number is more difficult to determine since the ending of domestic processing in the United States, prior to the plant closure, roughly half of the total processed were quarter horses, which stands to reason since quarter horses comprise the majority of the nation’s total horse population. Thoroughbreds comprised around 20%; draft horses 8%; and the remaining 20% were other breeds such as Arabians, Appaloosas, mules, ponies, and crossbreds.

False Assertions About Medications

Following the closure of domestic horse processing plants and resulting equine welfare crisis, activists shifted their focus to a shoddy and transparent ruse of concern for human health. They make claims that the majority of American horses are medicated with substances that render their meat unsafe for human consumption. The primary focus is the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), phenylbutazone, or “Bute.”

  • The assertion that the majority of horses are given Bute, and are therefore unsuitable for human consumption, is blatantly false. It is most commonly used in performance and working horses to alleviate pain and inflammation from strenuous activity, as part of a treatment and recovery plan. Many horses, such as broodmares, young horses, horses that were never trained for riding and light-use recreational riding horses, never need to “be Buted.”
  • Phenylbutazone is not inherently toxic to humans, especially in the very unlikely event that a trace amount was present in horse meat. Professor Dame Sally Davies, a past United Kingdom Department of Health Chief Medical Officer, was quoted as saying: “Horsemeat containing phenylbutazone presents a very low risk to human health… Phenylbutazone, known as Bute, is a commonly used medicine in horses. It is also prescribed to some patients who are suffering from a severe form of arthritis… At the levels of Bute that have been found (in horsemeat), a person would have to eat 500 to 600 burgers a day that are 100% horse meat to get close to consuming a human’s daily dose. And it passes through the system quickly, so it is unlikely to build up in our bodies… In patients who have been taking phenylbutazone as a medicine there can be serious side effects but these are rare. It is extremely unlikely that anyone who has eaten horse meat containing Bute will experience one of these side effects.”
  • Horse meat is regularly consumed in many countries, and the procedures of processing, shipping, and selling it are subject to the same rigorous testing and safety protocols as all other meats. It is ridiculous to claim that testing is effective and safe for other meats, but not horse meat.

SAFE Act is Cause for Many Concerns

The possibility of the SAFE Act passing is of great concern for a number of reasons:

  • The SAFE Act does not provide for the resulting excess of unwanted horses. Considering the gaping absence of “rescue” homes or alternative placement for as many as 100,000 processing-bound horses each year, there is no doubt that the passing of the SAFE Act would directly result in the extreme exacerbation what has already proved to be an equine welfare crisis in the past.
  • Horse owners would no longer have access to what is often the most practical, humane end of life option for the horses they own. No one has ever or will ever be forced to sell their horse to be processed. The end of life choice owners make must be made on an individual basis according to what is most appropriate for the situation. For example, in the case of Native American tribes, large numbers of their privately owned horses are regularly sold, which not only provides income but also helps preserve tribal lands. It is important to note that tribal horses are NOT publicly owned “mustangs.”
  • Other end of life options are not always practical or even possible.
    • Chemical euthanasia is not always humane, and combined with carcass disposal, can be cost prohibitive. It also creates hundreds of pounds of toxic waste.
    • “Putting a horse down” with a properly placed bullet is not something most people have the experience, knowledge, or fortitude to do, nor do many people have a place to put the carcass.
  • Even if homes could be found for a fraction of the horses bound for processing, it is vital to understand that many of them are unsound, unhealthy, or otherwise unfit for use. Some are dangerous.
  • It would impose fines and prison time for anyone who sells, transports, imports or exports horses bound for processing.
  • While horses are not commonly consumed by humans in the United States, horse meat is a staple in many countries. It is also regularly utilized by zoos and wild animal sanctuaries. It sets a dangerous precedent to declare that any particular type of animal cannot be humanely processed for consumption, simply due to one society’s ethnocentric emotional attachment to the species.

Protect The Harvest strongly advocates for animal welfare practices that are based on sound, proven science, and supports the rights of horse owners to make the most appropriate choice for the best interest and well-being of their animals.

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