The Snohomish County (Washington) Council voted this week to ban the killing of horses as a human food source. Following what local newspaper The Herald described as “emotional testimony,” council members voted unanimously to enact the ban.
The new law would prohibit slaughtering horses if a person knows, “That any of the horse meat will be used for human consumption,” according to the news story. The ordinance applies to any horse, pony, donkey or mule.
“I think it was important to get this going as a preemptive ordinance,” said Councilman Dave Somers, before he and his colleagues passed the ban in a 4-0 vote. Somers, who owns horses, said there were humane and environmental reasons for enacting the ban. Violations of the law would be a considered a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail.
The ordinance specified that no one can be held legally responsible for selling a horse to another person who later slaughters it. That would allow feedlots to continue exporting horses for slaughter elsewhere.
More than 20 people testified during a Wednesday hearing, most of them in favor of the ban.
“We shouldn’t turn Snohomish County into the horse-slaughter capital of America,” said Russ Mead, general counsel for the Seattle-based Animal Law Coalition.
Talk about over-the-top hyperbole. Regardless of how the council voted, that was never going to happen. No horse slaughterhouses have legally operated anywhere in the United States since 2007, as a result of a congressional measure that prevented federal funds from being used for meat inspection services at packing plants handling horseslaughter. Of course, a recent reversal of federal policy has re-opened the door to resume funding horse slaughter inspections.
Currently, according to best estimates, more than 100,000 U.S. horses are still exported each year for slaughter in Canada and Mexico, with sales of horse meat almost exclusively targeted to foreign markets. For many Americans, eating horse is equivalent to eating a pet. However, it’s widely consumed in parts of Europe and Asia.
Although rumors have circulated about re-opening a former horse plant that operated at Florence Packing Co. in the northern part of the county the 1970s and 1980s, the company owner told reporters he has no plans to reopen the facility, although he does sell horses to a Canadian company that operates slaughter facilities north of the border, according to The Herald.