Measure would ban horse slaughter

Louisville Courier-Journal

    WASHINGTON — Buried deep within the government spending bill Congress passed last month is a provision that effectively bans horse slaughter in the United States.

    The measure bars the U.S. Department of Agriculture from collecting fees to pay for horse meat inspections, without which slaughter can’t legally continue.

    But if Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky has his way, it won’t be the last legislative effort to end a practice he and others consider inhumane.

    Con. Ed Whitfield attends a rally at the Capitol last Congress protesting horse slaughter (picture not filed with this story).

    Whitfield, R-1st District, and others are sponsoring legislation that would ban the transport, sale, purchase or donation of horses to be slaughtered for human consumption.

    The idea would be to permanently prohibit the practice nationwide and also prevent horses from being taken to other countries for slaughter.

    Whitfield said the legislation represents a final step that needs to be taken because horses are being transported eventually to be slaughtered beyond the U.S. border.

    “The problem now is that people are moving more of the horses to Mexico, where the slaughter process is even worse than it was in the U.S,” he said.

    With the closing of U.S. slaughterhouses, some equine groups are expressing concerns about a glut of unwanted horses as the cost of caring for them increases.

    According to the USDA, more than 100,000 horses were slaughtered in the United States in 2006 — primarily for dinner tables in Asia and Europe.

    Some agriculture organizations, like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, worry that banning horse slaughter is the first step in animal activists’ plans to outlaw the processing of other meat.

    “This is a slippery slope,” said Colin Woodall, vice president and executive director of legislative affairs for the cattlemen’s group.

    But in 2007 events pretty much all went in favor of horse slaughter opponents.

    Court decisions last year shuttered the last three slaughter plants in the United States, one in Illinois and two in Texas.
    The Senate Commerce Committee approved the slaughter ban bill last April.

    In May, Illinois enacted its own horse slaughter ban. And in December, the spending bill with its USDA provision passed.
    Plus, the political sensitivities of lawmakers in an election year bodes well for a permanent ban, said Nancy Perry, vice president of government affairs for the Humane Society of the United States, which supports the legislation.

    Her group released a video report in September that it prepared on the horse slaughter industry in Mexico.

    Whitfield is a primary co-sponsor of the bill to keep horses from being transported from the U.S. for slaughter, along with Rep. Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill.

    Among the 189 other co-sponsors are Kentucky Reps. John Yarmuth, D-3rd District, Hal Rogers, R-5th District, and Ben Chandler, D-6th District, as well as Baron Hill, D-9th District, Indiana.

    The bill has not yet had a House committee hearing, but Whitfield thinks there will be one this year.

    “I think something will be done,” he said. “There’s a need for the bill and a need for additional health and safety regulations related to horses being slaughtered for human consumption.”

    The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has 38 co-sponsors, including Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind. That measure now awaits action by the full Senate.

    “We all hold high, high hopes for 2008,” Perry said. “We are worlds apart from where we were a year ago.”

    Still, some agriculture groups, allied with members of Congress, argue that opponents of horse slaughter are making an emotional appeal that does not solve what they see as a practical problem, dealing with unwanted horses.

    “Those horses just don’t go away — something has to be done with them,” Woodall said.

    He said the industry supports all means of saving unwanted horses, including rescues and adoptions. But too many horses remain, and “processing was one thing that was left that we thought was a viable management option.”

    Officials with the Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner’s office said they do not see great numbers of neglected horses in the state, although factors like last year’s drought are a concern.

    State Veterinarian Robert Stout said the Agriculture Department created a hay hotline — to help deal with shortages linked to extreme weather conditions last year — and is stressing that owners must be responsible for their horses’ care.

    “The reports that we get, you know, aren’t any more elevated this year than they have (been) in the past,” said Rusty Ford, the equine programs manager for Stout’s office. ” We’re working diligently to avoid this from becoming a crisis situation.”

    Woodall argues that horse slaughter will continue outside American jurisdiction, and “there’s nothing the U.S. government can do to stop that.”

    In any case, he said there was no need for additional federal legislation now that the American slaughterhouses are closed.
    Regulations already govern how horses are supposed to be treated in transit, Woodall said, adding that he doesn’t believe a transport ban will work.

    “It would still happen,” he said. “All of a sudden, you might see more ‘horse shows’ in Mexico.”

    Whitfield said he thought few people were involved in raising horses for slaughter.

    And with the industry shuttered here, he said, “you will find fewer people breeding horses” for slaughter.

Contact reporter James R. Carroll at (202) 906-8141.

Source: Louisville Courier-Journal at this link.

Photograph taken during last Congress’s attempt to ban horse slaughter, and not filed with this story.

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