A congressional hearing to investigate what critics call America's dirty little secret - the slaughtering of horses whose meat is then shipped overseas - is scheduled for this afternoon.
"It's like eating cats or dogs," said Jerry Finch, president of Habitat for Horses, which rescues abused horses. "We just don't do it in this country."
But they do in Europe and Japan, he said. Finch estimates 400 horses in the United States are slaughtered every day, specifically to provide horse meat for consumption abroad.
Polls show about 80 percent of Americans are against the slaughtering of horses for food, probably because the horse is a significant part of American lore. One of the most popular news stories of the year was the injury of Barbaro, a Kentucky Derby champion, and children's books are filled with tales of kind ponies and horses, like "The Black Stallion" and "My Friend Flicka."
Yet three horse slaughterhouses exist in this country, two in Texas and one in Illinois.
Congress is considering legislation that would shut their doors, making the transportation of horse meat to other countries illegal. Today a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will listen to testimony by horse lovers - among them oil baron T. Boone Pickens, who has dubbed the practice America's "dirty little secret" - as well as lobbyists for the slaughterhouses.
House Majority Leader John Boehner said the House will vote on the issue when it returns from its summer recess in September.
Jerry Finch of Habitat for Horses plans to be there. "I've been fighting this issue for five years," he said. "This is the closest we've ever come and I'm confident we'll succeed this time."