What’s been happening with efforts to ban horse slaughter since June 2008, when the United States Supreme Court refused to consider the appeal of Cavel International?

The Cavel appeal challenged the legal authority of Illinois to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Opponents of slaughter hailed the Supreme Court decision to do nothing as a victory, and in a very narrow sense it was. But the Supreme Court never addressed the merits of the Illinois law, nor did the Court reach a substantive conclusion one way or the other on horse slaughter. The non-action by the Court simply left intact a 2007 decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the Illinois Horse Meat Act that ended horse slaughter—at least for human consumption—in Illinois.

The Seventh Circuit decision did not actually address the pros and cons of horse slaughter, either. Instead, the Court merely upheld the right of a state (Illinois) to regulate the slaughter of horses, without requiring a state to do so. The Seventh Circuit did not decide that horse slaughter was either prohibited or permitted in Illinois, or anywhere else. That decision, in the absence of federal legislation applicable across the board, still rests with the individual states.

A few states, including New York and New Jersey, have attempted to follow the lead of Illinois and ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption. There has been far more activity on the pro-slaughter side of the fence, however.

Legislation has been introduced in at least three states—Illinois (to repeal the slaughter ban), Montana, and Tennessee—that would legalize horse slaughter. The effort failed in Illinois, passed in Montana, and is on hold in Tennessee. Legislation asking for feasibility studies on horse slaughter facilities has been introduced in North Dakota, where it passed, and in South Dakota; bills have passed in at least a half-dozen state legislatures urging Congress to oppose any federal laws that would ban the slaughter of horses nationwide. TheHorse.com has updated information about the status of slaughter legislation nationwide.  It is clear that there is strong sentiment in favor of the reintroduction of horse slaughter facilities in some parts of the United States.

Federal legislation that would ban horse slaughter for human consumption was introduced earlier this year in both the Senate (S.727, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2009) and House of Representatives (H.R.503, also named the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2009). The bills are virtually identical, criminalizing the "possessing, shipping, transporting, purchasing, selling, delivering, or receiving any horse, horse flesh, or carcass with the intent that it be used for human consumption." Both bills were referred to committees in March: S.727 to the Committee on the Judiciary and H.R.503 to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. So far, neither bill has emerged from committee. Conspicuously absent from S.727 and H.R.503 are provisions providing for the care and upkeep of the burgeoning number of abandoned and unwanted horses. This raises the concern that a ban on slaughter, standing alone, will cause more problems that it will solve.

Bans on horse slaughter have not fared well in Congress in the past, but there is some indication that support for such action may be growing. Earlier this year the House of Representatives passed H.R.1018, the Restore Our Mustangs Act (ROAM). Although some in Congress criticized the measure as welfare for horses, H.R.1018 passed by a comfortable, 239-185 margin. ROAM amends the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act in several important ways, including an expansion of criminal penalties. Current law prohibits processing "the remains of a wild free-roaming horse or burro" into commercial products. ROAM as presently proposed, on the other hand, would ban the processing and the transport for processing of "a live or deceased wild free-roaming horse or burro." In other words, wild horses and burros no longer could be slaughtered for processing into commercial products. If ROAM becomes law, can a nationwide ban on horse slaughter be far behind?