By LISA SANDBERG, Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau, reports:
AUSTIN — Animal welfare advocates have expressed outrage at the shipments of American horses to slaughter plants in Mexico and Canada, but a Texas congressman says Congress may be too distracted this year to hear them.
“If members of Congress (knew what was happening), I think we’d get some immediate action,” said U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, a horse slaughter opponent.
But given the current debates in Congress today — children’s health insurance, the war in Iraq — Gonzalez said he doesn’t think a bill that would protect horses from commercial slaughter, here and across U.S. borders, will be a priority.
HR 503 would ban horses from being slaughtered in the United States and would close U.S. borders to slaughter-bound horses.
Gonzalez was responding to a front-page story in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle documenting the killing of American horses in Mexico.
Houston Congressman Gene Green, another Texas Democrat who opposes the slaughter of horses, said he has had “no contact at all” from his constituents on the issue this year, unlike last year, when the House passed HR 503. The bill later died in the Senate but has been reintroduced this year and is pending.
He said the House would be unlikely to take action unless the Senate approved a bill first.
More than 100,000 U.S. horses were slaughtered last year for overseas dinner plates, according to government figures. About 15,000 fewer horses had been slaughtered this year before U.S. operations were closed. But exports to foreign slaughterhouses are way up with 48,000 enduring grueling journeys to Mexico and Canada before being slaughtered there.
Sunday’s article documented conditions at a municipal plant in Juarez, Mexico, where American horses were hacked to death with knives rather than stunned with the captive bolt guns that were common at U.S. plants. The “puntilla” method appears to be standard at older slaughter plants throughout Mexico.
Horses at the Ciudad Juarez plant are stabbed in the back until the spinal cord is severed, then hoisted so their throats can be slit.
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Those who lobbied unsuccessfully to keep horse slaughter plants open in the U.S. say they warned that horses would suffer far more if the plants were closed and they were exported by traders.
“It’s predictable,” said former Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm of Abilene, who went to work as a lobbyist for the horse slaughter industry after losing his seat in Congress and now is a spokesman for the Horse Welfare Association.
Stenholm said he agreed with animal welfare advocates that there is no easy way to kill a horse.
“If you’re going to prematurely end a horse’s life, it’s going to be difficult,” he said. “No matter what. Nothing is perfect, but the captive bolt gun is the best of all options.”
Animal advocates say the inhumane conditions in which American traders send horses on the journey across the border should not be used as an argument to reopen American slaughter operations.
The solution, they say, is to ban domestic horses from being slaughtered here or exported and killed in Mexico and Canada.
Operations ceased at all three horse slaughter plants in the United States this year because various U.S. courts have upheld state bans in Texas and Illinois. Texas had two plants; Illinois one.
“The urgency is in passing the federal legislation,” said Chris Heyde, deputy legislative director with the Animal Welfare Institute in Virginia. “Until we pass the federal legislation, nothing has changed.”
The advocates argue that horses should be spared from slaughter because they’ve become more like companion animals, like cats and dogs, and have played an important role in U.S. history.
They also contend that commercial slaughter was cruel even when done in this country. Because horses tend to move around more than cows, have narrow foreheads and brains set further back, they sometimes had to be hit multiple times with a captive bolt gun before dying.
“I don’t have a perfect solution to the problem,” said Gonzalez, “but I do know that slaughtering horses for the retail market goes totally contrary to the values established in this country.
“It’s why we don’t eat horse meat.”
Source: Houston Chronicle