Saying it’s time to end the practice of shipping American horses to Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses, the Maryland Horse Council last month took a historic vote to support the federal SAFE Act, legislation aimed at outlawing the sale and transport of American horses to slaughterhouses.
By a 28-to-3 vote, (with one abstention), the board made an unprecedented reversal of its earlier decision against taking a stand on slaughter following three months of deliberation among its vast membership.
“We just felt it was the right time,” said Council President Jane Seigler. “This is an issue that has been evolving with us.”
Following months of discussions, its vast membership of individuals and breed councils researched the possible ramifications of ending slaughter. Issues discussed included unwanted horses and potential for neglect to possible solutions, including humane euthanasia and the establishment of “surrender farms,” before finally deciding to endorse the SAFE (Safeguard American Food Exports), she said.
“The Maryland Horse Council is an umbrella organization that includes associations, businesses, farms, charities, foundations, and individuals from all parts of the Maryland horse industry,” Seigler stated in a press release. “Few issues are more important to our members than how we confront the problem of unwanted horses. The passage of this resolution sends a clear message that the pipeline to slaughter as it currently exists is unacceptable within the horse industry. The challenge that we now face is how to create humane alternatives for horses that have no market value and whose owners no longer want or are able to care for them.”
The vote to support the federal bill, which would outlaw the sale and transport of American horses to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico, was applauded by longtime Thoroughbred advocates and horsemen Steuart Pittman, founder of the Retired Racehorse Project, and Beverly Strauss, president of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue.
Pittman, whose mission is to help raise the value and marketability of ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds through retraining, lauded the vote as one that reflects the ideology of most horse owners.
“There’s an increasing percentage of Americans who oppose slaughter of horses for human consumption,” said Pittman, who is also a member of the Md. Horse Council. “The council leadership, by this vote, made a case that as an industry we are trying to recruit horse lovers to become horse owners, and fans. And when we were asked our position on the SAFE Act, it did not look good that we hadn’t taken a position.”
Pittman added, “Horsemen live in fear that the horses we sell could end up in a livestock auction, and wind up on a truck bound for a Canadian slaughterhouse. Everybody with a Thoroughbred lives in fear of it. You care about the horse, and your reputation. Slaughter has been an easy way out for some people, who are unwilling to euthanize or take the time to find the right situation for that horse.”
And when a horse winds up in the slaughter pipeline, people like Beverly Strauss of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue are left to scramble to raise emergency funds and save the animal’s life. Strauss said she was thrilled with the Council’s vote.
“I think it’s wonderful because the Horse Council polled its constituents, and they were overwhelmingly supportive of the SAFE Act,” she said. “Rather than having a few at the top make the decision, they listened to the people, and they changed their position.”
Strauss has been saving horses from the New Holland Auction since the 1980s. Though the number of horses being sold has declined since slaughterhouses in the U.S. were closed, she estimated that between 200-300 pass through the auction every week.
“Overall,” she said, “I think the SAFE Act is a step in the right direction. Horse slaughter won’t end until we get rid of demand for horsemeat overseas, and there will always be people who circumvent the laws. But I think that adding another roadblock will make it harder to ship horses to slaughter.”