WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu helped lead the annual "Horses on the Hill" event to rally support for banning horse slaughterhouses and the exporting of horses for slaughter in the country.

A horse owner, Landrieu in March filed an updated version of her Safeguard American Food Exports Act, or SAFE Act, that is designed to block the "inhumane and absolutely disgusting" horse slaughtering.

"We've introduced this bill several times. This bill will pass this year," said Landrieu, D-La. "The American people are fed up."

She said last week 30 horses were burned alive in a vehicle fire in New York, while they were being transported across the nation's border for slaughter. The bill also comes in the wake of Europe's horsemeat scandal that started early this year when testing in Ireland showed some beef products also contained equine DNA. The controversy spread across the continent and has harmed consumer confidence.

Landrieu noted that horses are often drugged for performance with painkillers that are harmful to humans, which makes the risk of consuming the meat greater.

Her new bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and others.

In 2011, Congress failed to renew a five-year ban on funding federal inspectors at horse slaughter plants in the United States. Horses are exported to Mexico and Canada for slaughter. The meat is sent to other countries where horsemeat is considered a delicacy. About 150,000 horses are estimated to be exported for slaughter a year. Some horse slaughterhouses are preparing to open in the U.S.

Those in favor of horse slaughter argue it is a legitimate business and that it is hypocritical for people to argue that horses must be treated differently when they eat the meat from cows, pigs and sheep that were slaughtered. The critics also argue that the banning of slaughter hurts the entire horse industry and that many horses are starving to death and dying in more painful ways than being slaughtered.

Landrieu argued that if you can afford to raise and maintain a horse, then you can afford to humanely put a horse down without selling it for slaughter.

"Horses are not raised for slaughter," Landrieu said. "They're animals that are raised for sport, for work, for companionship.

"The bond between a horse and a human is very different than the bond between a cow and a human, or a pig and a human, or a goat and a human," she added.