Editor's Note: Dr. Katy Nelson is an emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, Va.
Katy Nelson, special to wtop.com
WASHINGTON - Members of Congress, national animal welfare groups, veterinarians and equestrians gathered on Capitol Hill Wednesday to support legislation that would protect horses and the American public.
The ASPCA, Animal Welfare Institute and the Humane Society of the United States joined Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Reps. Patrick Meehan (R-Penn.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) as they introduced federal legislation to stop the killing of American horses for human consumption and prohibit the transport of horses across the U.S. border for slaughter.
The passage of Safeguard American Food Exports Act of 2013 would prohibit horse slaughter operations in the U.S., end the current export and slaughter of more than 160,000 American horses abroad each year and protect the public from consuming toxic horsemeat.
A January 2012 national poll commissioned by the ASPCA says 80 percent of American voters oppose the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Yet, last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a plan to process an application for inspecting horse slaughter at a New Mexico facility. If the application is approved, Valley Meat Company LLC will be the first facility to slaughter horses for human consumption since 2007, when the few remaining plants closed and Congress suspended funding for any further horse meat inspections.
There is growing concern among American consumers that horse meat will make its way into ground beef products in the U.S. as it has done in Europe. Major companies, including Tesco, Nestlé and Ikea, have had to pull food from shelves in 14 countries after tests showed that products labeled 100 percent beef contained small amounts of horse meat.
While horse meat itself is not "unsafe" to eat, many opponents of horse slaughtering say consumption of horse meat is ill-advised because of the use of various drugs in horses.
"Horses are not raised for human consumption, and they are frequently treated with drugs and chemicals that are toxic when ingested by humans," says Sen. Landrieu. "We must ensure that our food supply is not tainted with horse meat."
In addition to the public health concerns associated with eating animals not raised for human consumption, horse slaughter is inherently inhumane. The methods used to kill horses rarely result in quick, painless deaths, as horses often endure repeated stuns or blows and sometimes remain conscious during their slaughter or dismemberment.
These horses suffer terrible abuse, even before they arrive at the slaughterhouse. They are often transported for days at a time without food, water or rest in overcrowded trailers where the animals are often seriously injured or even killed in transit.
Numerous state legislatures have already acted to stop horse slaughter. Most recently, New Jersey enacted a measure prohibiting the slaughter and sale and transport of horse meat for human consumption. While past congressional actions on this subject have demonstrated a strong, bipartisan desire to prohibit the slaughter of horses, Congress has failed to permanently end the export of live horses to neighboring countries for slaughter.
Proponents for horse slaughter say it's an option for horses which are unable to be cared for, are starving or otherwise neglected. However, the majority of horses killed for human consumption are young, healthy animals who could go on to lead productive lives with loving owners. The passage of this legislation is a priority for the nation's leading animal welfare organizations as well as many veterinarians and equine groups across the country.
"Horses sent to slaughter are often subject to appalling, brutal treatment," Rep. Schakowsky said. "We must fight those practices. The SAFE Act of 2013 will ensure that these majestic animals are treated with the respect they deserve."
To learn more about the SAFE Act of 2013, visit the Animal Welfare Institute's website.
Write your Senator or Congressman today and urge them to support the SAFE Act of 2013. For sample letters, or guidance in how to find your legislator, visit the Humane Society website.
Tune in to "The Pet Show" with Dr. Katy every Saturday at 11 a.m. on Washington D.C.'s News Channel 8, and listen on WTOP for her Dr. Pawz segments every two weeks. Have questions for Dr. Katy? You can follow her on Twitter @drkatynelson, on Facebook or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @WTOPLiving on Twitter.
© 2013 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.