If you have read the recent news about horsemeat contaminating beef products sold throughout the European Union, you should be concerned. At this point, we don't know if it could happen here.

Each year, we ship more than 100,000 American horses across the borders of Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered. Many of these beautiful animals are in perfect health. They are sentenced to death because they have outlived their usefulness in the show ring or on the racetrack.

Workers at sanctuaries, such as SquirrelWood in Montgomery, N.Y., attend kill auctions to save some of these horses. But the rest are herded together into cramped trucks for a long journey, often without food or water, to the slaughterhouses of our neighboring countries.

Because so many American horses are regularly treated with drugs that are banned for use in animals raised for food, their meat is unfit for human consumption. But all over Europe, horsemeat is showing up in hamburgers and ground beef products, as reported in the international press, despite the fact it is not listed as an ingredient on the label. Consumers in Europe have no way of knowing if they are consuming horsemeat.

Even worse, if horsemeat from American horses has managed to find its way into the European food chain, we could be dealing with an international health crisis. Phenylbutazone is a common veterinary product known as horse aspirin. Bute, a known human carcinogen, is the most widely administered equine pain reliever used in the United States. American horses are not raised for slaughter and are given or treated with a wide variety of veterinary products that make their meat unfit for human consumption. Because American horse owners are not required to maintain veterinary records for their horses, no one can guarantee that American horsemeat is safe for consumption.

Meanwhile, legislators in Oklahoma, which bills itself as the horse show capital, are trying to overturn the state's 50-year ban on slaughtering horses. To have these slaughter houses up and running again is not only inhumane, it also puts consumers at risk of eating contaminated horse meat.

What we need to focus on is ending the slaughter of American horses. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) continues to urge Congress to ban horse slaughter once and for all with a bill that would not only outlaw the practice within the U.S., but also the export of live horses to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico.

HSUS has also created the Responsible Horse Breeders Council, which is comprised of horse breeders who have an interest in decreasing the number of at risk horses who are neglected, starved or sent to slaughter by reducing the number of surplus horses bred in the United States. The council will work together on public policy positions and educational initiatives that actively reduce the number of surplus horses bred in the United States. The council will also concentrate on discouraging overbreeding, educating horse owners about costs and responsibilities of horse ownership, and supporting efforts to retrain and rehome at risk horses.

More Information

Fact box

Before railroads and automobiles, our nation was built on the backs of horses. I hope that the European crisis will help close down the market for horsemeat. Until then, we need to support horse sanctuaries such as SquirrelWood and The HSUS' horse sanctuaries run by its affiliate the Fund for Animals in Oregon and Texas, so that these magnificent creatures can live out their lives in greener pastures.

Cathy Kangas is a member of the board of directors of the Humane Society of the United States. She can be reached at cathy@praibeauty.com.