Senator threatened USDA over horse inspections (Ky)

Kentucky paper says the minority leader opposed horse inspections

By JOHN CHEVES | McClatchy-Tribune | Sept. 3, 2008, 11:37PM

Mitch McConnell Headshot. ThiinkProgress image.
Mitch McConnell Headshot. ThiinkProgress image.

LEXINGTON, KY. — Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pressured the U.S. Department of Agriculture for years to back off its enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, even threatening to cut the agency’s funding, according to documents obtained by the Lexington Herald-Leader.

McConnell has supported the Tennessee Walking Horse industry in its battle against USDA inspectors who look for evidence of soring, the illegal practice of deliberately injuring a horse’s front feet to get it to step higher in an exaggerated style known as “the Big Lick.”

McConnell backed the industry’s demand for its own inspectors — paid by the industry, drawn from the ranks of horse owners and trainers — to have a greater role in soring inspections, rather than the USDA veterinarians who uncover and report soring more frequently.

At the same time, the industry donated tens of thousands to McConnell’s campaign and hired his Senate chief of staff, Niels Holch, as its Washington lobbyist and attorney.

“McConnell probably has caused more problems for horse protection single-handedly than any other person. He set the cause of horse protection back by years,” said Donna Benefield, administrative director of the Horse Protection Commission, a USDA-certified inspection group in Gallatin, Tenn.

McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, who stands for re-election Nov. 4, declined to be interviewed for this story or answer the written questions that his office requested.

In a prepared statement, a McConnell spokesman said:

“Over the years, Sen. McConnell has been pleased to work with Sen. Wendell Ford … on behalf of this important industry. In 1998, Sen. McConnell joined Sen. Ford and several others in sending a letter to the USDA to express their support to improving enforcement and correcting the regulatory problems as to how the walking horse industry is inspected.”

Holch declined to comment.

David Pruett, president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association, and a McConnell campaign donor, said he recognized McConnell as a friend of the industry. But Pruett said he’s never met McConnell and is not familiar with his actions regarding the Horse Protection Act.

USDA spokeswoman Jessica Milteer said the agency would not publicly discuss McConnell’s activities.

“From the USDA’s perspective, we are enforcing the Horse Protection Act to the best of our ability,” Milteer said. “That’s really all that we can say.”


Source: Houston Chronicle online.

Related reading: McConnell opposed USDA inspectors of sored horses, Lexington Herald-Leader, 31 August 2008, also by JOHN CHEVES

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