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April 24, 2018

Everyone has a ‘sacred cow’: Horse slaughter banned in US

Everyone has a ‘sacred cow’. Even the American who ridicules the Indian’s opposition to cow slaughter. Here, the American’s ‘sacred cow’ is the horse.

Horse slaughter is effective banned in the US through a convoluted budget tactic while two bills are pending before the US Congress to make it permanent.

While the bill for an outright ban works its way through Congress, the present backdoor horse slaughter ban works like this: The budget that was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama last year prohibited the agriculture department from spending money on inspecting horse slaughter houses. Without inspections, the slaughter houses cannot operate legally and that effectively banned horse slaughter.

Twenty Republican and 50 Democratic Representatives jointly introduced a bill in the lower house in April for an outright ban on horse slaughter and its export for butchering. Two senators from each of the two parties followed suit the next month and the bills are pending in Congress.

Several organisations like the Humane Society and Equine Advocates have been lobbying for ending the killing of horses for food.

Cultural reasons that verge on religious fervour in this predominantly Christian nation are the main motivators for banning horse slaughter. In its mobilisation efforts Equine Advocates uses a quote that elevates horses to the level of a national icon and invokes the nation’s cultural heritage.

“Our forefathers honoured The Horse as a ‘favoured’ animal like dogs and cats when this country was founded,” Cathleen Doyle, who led the efforts to ban horse slaughter in California, is quoted as saying. “Dog, cat and horse slaughter are not part of our culture or heritage. We should no more be slaughtering our horses for export than we should slaughter our dogs or cats for export to countries where their meat is eaten.”

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says that according to a 2012 national poll 80% of Americans are against horse butchering.

Moreover, the Bible in the books of Deutronomy and Leviticus put horses in the category of the “unclean” and, therefore, not to be eaten because unlike cattle they do not chew the cud.

Even though cultural reasons are the motivation, the anti-horse slaughter advocates present it as a health issue claiming that the medications given to horses can be harmful to humans. The legislators, who call call their measure Safeguard American Food Exports or SAFE Act, avoid the cultural or religious reasons and say that the proposed law is for health reasons.

Horses have not been slaughtered in the US since 2007 when Illinois State, where the last American horse abattoir was operating, banned horse slaughter.

A federal horse slaughter ban bill was passed by the House of Representatives in 2006, but was blocked in the Senate by a group of lawmakers representing horse butcher interests. Several businesses have been trying to revive the horse slaughter houses but have been stopped by the budget measure.

American horses, however, still fall to the butchers’ knives as they are transported to Canada and Mexico which allow horse slaughter. The SAFE Act, if passed, would stop the exports.

Although horse meat is eaten in several countries and cultures, including European, organisations in the US, especially those of the Indian diaspora, that oppose cow slaughter ban in India on the grounds that people should have the right to eat what they want have been silent on horse slaughter ban.

The ASPCA and the Humane Society say they oppose horse slaughter because of the cruelty to the animals, but they do not advocate a cow slaughter ban.