BLACKFOOT, Idaho - When the government shut down horse processing facilities in the United States about six years ago, it did not stop horse slaughter. Kill buyers simply took truck loads of unwanted horses to Canada or Mexico for meat processing. Now there's a bill in Congress, H.R. 1094, that would make that shipping illegal. H.R. 1094 is called the Safeguard American Foods Export Act. It suggests it is dangerous to eat horse meat.
Animal rights groups worked long and hard to halt horse slaughter in the U.S. First of all, they found it to be unacceptably cruel.
"Anyone that thinks you can make it humane doesn't know commercial slaughter plants. It's naive to think it can be done," said Nancy Perry of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Lindsay Rajt from PETA agrees. " We campaign to show people how animals are like us, " she said. "They're like us in their capacity to experience pain, fear, suffering, and joy. To PETA, animals have value."
A second point for stopping horse slaughter for meat is the fact that animal rights organizations say horse meat can harm you.
"Horses constantly need chemicals," said Perry. " All that medicine and chemicals are prohibited for human consumption. Their whole lives they're treated with toxins. You may be able to consume that with no problem, but my liver might shut down. So people consuming horse meat are playing Russian roulette. "
But Dr. Dave Stanley, a veterinarian from Blackfoot, said the alleged dangers from horse meat are unfounded.
"There is no danger from eating horse meat. Everything we use in horses has a duration just like in cattle, sheep, and pigs. There's a half-life of the drug. After a certain amount of time, it's metabolized and excreted and gone," he said.
One of the biggest horse sellers in the nation agrees. Jann Parkinson of Billings Livestock in Billings, Mont., said horses headed for slaughter are required to go through a six-month withdrawal period.
"People have eaten horse meat since the caveman," she said. "When we had processing in the United States, it was governed by the USDA. We didn't just fly by the seat of our pants. There were rules and regulations."
Stanley adds, " I'm a pragmatic person. It's healthy red meat. It's a cultural idea we shouldn't eat it which comes from reading 'Black Beauty' and 'Flicka.' Truthfully, it's good protein, and good meat."
But the ASPCA sticks by its belief.
"It's risky to take an animal not raised for food and put it in the food chain," said Perry.
But, Parkinson said, "It's not like we're tilling new ground here."
"Someone has thought of these possible problems a long time ago. Europe has dealt with horse meat for generations. I think they know what they're doing to protect their consumers," she said.
H.R. 1094 is in the House Agriculture Committee. It has 86 sponsors.
The USDA lists the advantages to eating horse meat at http://www.igha.org/USDA.html.