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A U.S. House judiciary subcommittee on Thursday heard testimony from animal rights activists while considering a bill that would outlaw the sale and shipment of horses for processing for food.
Nicholas Dodman, a founder of the group Veterinarians for Equine Welfare, said slaughterhouse practices are inhumane.
"From the transport of horses on inappropriate conveyances for long periods of time without food, water or rest, to the very ugly slaughter process in which horses react with pain and fear, no evidence exists to support the claim that horse slaughter is a form of humane euthanasia," he said.
With no horse slaughterhouses in operation in the United States, horses are sent to Canada and Mexico for processing. There are currently seven licensed horse slaughterhouses in Canada. The horse-slaughter business in the country has increased 75 per cent since the U.S. outlawed the practice for human consumption in 2006. The meat is typically consumed in Europe and Asia.
Critics suggest undesirable horses may suffer neglect should the bill become law. Work and race horses that are past their prime can be placed in humane resting places but this is an expensive option.
"Those of us who are in the field every day practising equine medicine know the harsh realities confronting horses that are unwanted," said Douglas Corey, former president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
"Horses are left unsold at auctions, even with a rock-bottom sale price. Others endure a worse fate of being neglected by their owners or abandonment."
In June, the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition called for a similar ban on slaughterhouses in Canada, saying the trade was not being properly regulated.