By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
With the signing of the omnibus bill this past weekend, U.S. federal law now includes critical protections for horses we have fought hard for over many years. These include measures to stop the widespread drugging of racehorses and provide increased track safety, keep horse slaughter plants in the United States shuttered, and boost funding to stop the cruel soring of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds.
These are historic achievements, and we’re proud to share the details with you.
Racehorses: The law includes the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (S. 4547/H.R. 1754), to address the doping of racehorses and require that the tracks they run on be safe. The law will establish an independent, national authority that contracts with the United States Anti-Doping Agency to oversee drug enforcement. It will put in place uniform and rigorous rules, testing and penalties to address the abuse of pain-masking and performance-enhancing drugs that are key contributing factors to frequent fatalities on American racetracks.
According to news reports, at least eight horses on average died at racetracks each week during the 2019 racing season. The new law will create a committee tasked with mandating enhanced racetrack safety protocols to protect both racehorses and jockeys. This is an especially important win for us because we have long worked with serious-minded reformers in the horse racing industry to address racehorse deaths on the tracks, including through the creation of the National Horse Racing Advisory Council made up of industry professionals and specialists.
Horse slaughter: We helped secure a rider in the law ensuring that no taxpayer money will be allocated to fund U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections of horse slaughter plants, ensuring that they cannot reopen. This provision is necessary to stop the return of the predatory horse slaughter industry in the United States and it has been in place for all but two years since 2005. An overwhelming majority of Americans—80%—agree that horse slaughter for human consumption is an inherently cruel practice that should be permanently banned. This is also a food safety issue: American horses are not fit for human consumption because they are not raised under the regulatory restrictions required for animals raised for food. Horses in this country routinely receive drugs and medications that are specifically banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in food animals due to their toxicity to humans.
Horse soring: The law doubles the FY 2020 funding level for USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act to over $2 million to address the “soring” of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds. Soring is the intentional infliction of pain on the horses’ hooves and legs to get them to perform a pain-based and artificial high-stepping gait for the show ring called the “big lick.” We’ll be working in the coming year to secure passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, (S. 1007/H.R. 693 in the current Congress), a bill that would decisively crack down on soring. The bill passed the House in the 116th Congress by an overwhelming bipartisan vote and is cosponsored by a majority in the Senate. We will also work with the Biden administration to swiftly reinstate a rule that would strengthen enforcement against soring, as the omnibus package urges the USDA to do. The rule, shelved in 2017, would end the failed system of industry self-policing and use of devices integral to soring, accomplishing much of what the PAST Act would do.
We achieved many more victories for animals in the omnibus bill this year, and each one has taken months of tireless, round-the-clock work by our staff and members of Congress sympathetic to our cause. We are grateful to every one of them. We are also grateful to you for your support: for calling and writing to your members of Congress to support these measures and for keeping them front and center.
Let's take a moment today to celebrate these landmark wins for horses and for all animals. In coming months we will be watching closely to ensure solid implementation of the new measures concerning horse racing, and we will continue to press forward to ensure that the cruelty of horse soring ends once and for all. We will also be pushing for the passage of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act to permanently ban the brutal slaughter of American horses both here and abroad. The road ahead is long, but we’re in it until these measures to protect American equines cross the finish line.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.