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H.R. 3355 (117th): SAFE Act of 2021

In the words of Broadway’s Alexander Hamilton: “Congress writes, ‘George, attack the British forces’ / I shoot back, ‘We have resorted to eating our horses.’”


While horse meat has been considered culturally taboo throughout American history, dating back to the Pilgrims, it’s always remained legal. Indeed, horse meat has periodically risen in popularity in various eras, such as during the food shortages of World War I and World War II, and during the 1890s as the rise of automobiles ameliorated horses as a form of transportation.

The last U.S. slaughterhouse that produced horse meat for human consumption was closed in 2007, when Illinois enacted a law banning horse meat in the state, shutting down the country’s only such remaining slaughterhouse in the process. So in practice, horse meat in the U.S. is effectively nonexistent, at least in any commercialized way.

Yet as long the act remains legal on the books, it could theoretically come back.

What the bill does

The SAFE (Save America’s Forgotten Equines) Act would ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption domestically, also prohibiting the export of horses to any other country for that purpose.

It was introduced in the House on May 19 as H.R. 3355, by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL9).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that from Seabiscuit to American Pharoah, from Black Beauty to Silver, horses play an outsized part in the American imagination and shouldn’t be served on the dinner plate.

“For centuries, horses have embodied the spirit of American freedom and pride. They are our companions, work partners, entertainers, and athletes,” Rep. Schakowsky said in a press release. “With such a special place in our nation’s history, it’s beyond time that we end the brutal practice of slaughtering these majestic creatures as food for humans.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the legislation is a solution in search of a problem, and could inadvertently lead to worse outcomes for the horses themselves.

“If a federal ban on horse slaughter is passed, what will happen to the horses? The fact that we do not know, and concerns about what could happen, is why the AVMA cannot in good conscience support a federal ban on horse slaughter without ensuring protection for the horses affected,” the American Veterinary Medical Association writes. As examples of such protection, they cite funding and infrastructure to address unwanted horses — neither of which are included in the current legislation.

“Removing slaughter as a humane option will leave many horses with nowhere to go and no one to care for them. There will likely be an acute rise in abuse, neglect, and abandonments with corresponding negative impacts on horse welfare,” the AVMA continues. “Horse rescues and sanctuaries are already at or near capacity and local officials commonly lack authority and resources to enforce penalties against neglectful or cruel horse owners.”

Odds of passage

A 2005 version called the Horse Slaughter Prohibition Act, introduced by former Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY20), passed the House by 263–146. Interestingly, it passed mostly on Democratic votes even though Republicans controlled the chamber at the time: Republicans slightly opposed it 106–110, while Democrats overwhelmingly supported it 156–36.

That version never received a Senate vote.

The current version of the legislation has been introduced in several previous Congresses, still under the name SAFE Act, but with those letters instead standing for the Safeguard American Food Exports Act. Those iterations attracted perpetually larger bipartisan cosponsorship, yet never received a committee vote.

For reasons unclear, the current House version has attracted considerably less cosponsorship than any of those four prior versions, at 78 bipartisan cosponsors: 65 Democrats and 13 Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Last updated Jul 26, 2021. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jul 19, 2021.

Save America’s Forgotten Equines Act of 2021 or the SAFE Act of 2021

This bill prohibits the transporting, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation by a person of an equine (e.g., horse) that the person has reason to believe will be slaughtered for human consumption.