SALEM, Ohio – Animal sanctuary owner Annette Fisher says most Americans wouldn’t consider slaughtering their cats and dogs, so we shouldn’t allow slaughterhouses to keep killing horses for meat production, either.
Hundreds of politicians in the U.S. House of Representatives agreed by backing a permanent ban on horse slaughter, 263-146, Sept. 7.
Lawmakers approved the bill despite a recommendation from the House Agriculture Committee that no action be taken on it. The Energy and Commerce Committee discharged the measure without a recommendation.
As of presstime, the bill had its first reading in the Senate and was scheduled on the legislative calendar.
Proposed. The legislation looks to amend the Horse Protection Act “to prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption and for other purposes.”
If approved by Congress, the legislation would shut down the three remaining equine processing plants in the United States, leaving thousands of American horses to be abandoned or placed in unregulated horse adoption facilities.
The three U.S. slaughter plants kill about 90,000 horses every year, primarily for export, according to the Animal Welfare Council. Horse meat is considered a delicacy in Europe, especially in France, Italy, Belgium, and in Japan.
It is also legal to sell and consume horse meat in the U.S., according to Steven Cohen, spokesman for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Against the ban. Emotions run high across the board and on both sides of the issue.
The National Pork Producers Council and American Quarter Horse Association, just two of more than 200 agriculture groups that opposed the bill, expressed disappointment with the vote.
“The bill sets a dangerous precedent by banning a livestock product for reasons other than food safety or public health,” said NPPC President Joy Philippi. “We are very disappointed by this vote, which clearly was based on emotion, not science.”
In several letters sent to all 435 House members, the pork producers pointed out that if H.R. 503 was based on science, environmental issues such as the safe disposal of nearly 80,000 horse carcasses annually and disease management for humans and animals would have been addressed in the bill.
The Quarter Horse association said the bill, if passed into law, would increase neglect on unwanted horses.
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said USDA opposed the bill for several reasons, many of them economic. But “most significantly,” Johanns wrote, “we have serious concerns that the welfare of these horses would be negatively impacted by a ban on slaughter.”
For the ban. “The ban should be put into effect,” said Annette Fisher, who operates Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary in Portage County.
“We certainly wouldn’t put our other pets through a slaughter facility, and it’s not right to do it to horses, either.”
Legislators agree. In the written text of the bill, the amendment says “horses and other equines are domestic animals that are used primarily for recreation, pleasure and sport” and “unlike cows, pigs, and many other animals, horses and other equines are not raised for the purpose of being slaughtered for human consumption.”
A look at the future. Fisher’s farm animal sanctuary, which takes in horses through an Amish horse retirement program, as well as backyard horses that are abandoned or neglected, is at full capacity today with 11 equines.
There are four more on a waiting list. Fisher says that list will grow longer later this fall, when backyard horse enthusiasts ‘dump’ their horses before winter hits.
“There aren’t enough rescue facilities around now, not enough to take in the influx of unwanted horses every week,” Fisher said.
A study conducted for the Animal Welfare Council estimated a cost of $220 million for the care of unwanted horses.
“This affects everyone who owns a horse, when the option is to auction or euthanize the animal,” she said, noting most people who sell their horses at an auction don’t realize they’re often bought for slaughter.
Proponents. The Humane Society of the United States is a major proponent of the legislation.
In a news release, the humane society described horse hauling and slaughter as grim and inhumane.
“Horse slaughter is simply indefensible, and polls show that the vast majority of Americans agree,” HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle said.
“The House took us one giant step closer to halting the barbaric and needless slaughter of American horses for foreign consumers,” Pacelle said after the vote.
Horses are the only farm animal whose hauling is monitored and regulated by the USDA.
Shelters. The American Veterinary Medical Association stands on the other side of the ban.
In testimony before the Energy and Commerce Committee, Bonnie Beaver, past president of the AVMA, said it would be “daunting and probably impossible” to create and fund animal shelters to care for unwanted horses if slaughter was banned.
“[Supporters of the bill] are making this into an emotionally charged issue instead of offering solution to the problem of unwanted horses, and are potentially creating more welfare and environmental concerns in the process,” she said.
Alternative. The National Pork Producers Council supported a bipartisan amendment to H.R. 503 offered by Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
That amendment would have ensured sufficient certified sanctuaries to care for abandoned and neglected horses before a ban on processing them could take effect. The amendment failed on a 177-229 vote.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!
Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!