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I wrote about the proposed horse slaughter ban in the Summer 2003 issue of The Draft Horse Journal. Since then much has happened. On September 7, 2006, the United States House of Representatives voted 263-146, to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption by passing the “American Slaughter Prevention Act” (H.R. 503). Passage by the House of Representatives does not make the bill law-at least not yet.
The bill must go to the Senate of the United States where it will be placed in the Energy and Natural Resource Committee for consideration and vote. The bill must be approved by the Committee before it can be placed on the floor of the Senate for a vote. There is a busy and considerable agenda in the United States Senate and the thought is the lawmakers will not have time to address this bill until after the November 7 election. The bill in the Senate is referred to as Senate bill 1915 (S. 1915).
A brief review of some important facts before proceeding: About 90,000 unwanted or unusable horses are slaughtered each year in three major facilities in the United States. The meat is shipped to Europe and Asia. The export value of the meat for human consumption abroad was valued at approximately $26 million in 2005. With the above considerations in mind, it is important to consider the economic impact of such a ban.
Proponents and opponents of the bill are lining up and are very vocal. The latest celebrity to join the fray is Bo Derek (star of the 1979 movie “Ten”). Bo Derek, along with Christie Brinkley, Whoopie Goldberg and others have joined forces with the Society for Animal Protection Legislation and are meeting with lawmakers concerning the issue. In 2002, Derek wrote her autobiography and titled it Riding Lessons: Everything That Matters In Life I Learned From Horses. Derek takes the position that horses deserve a respectful death and burial. When used for slaughter purposes, horses are shot with a stun gun, a practice proponents claim is cruel.
However, former Congressman, Charles Stenholm, a lobbyist for the horse meat industry, disagrees. Stenholm told The Washington Post, “with all due sincerity to the na•vet’ of Bo Derek, it is a horse welfare issue. Somebody has to take care of unwanted horses. There are just not enough people who want to adopt horses.” In other words, the ban will cause horses to be abandoned and/or neglected. Allowing a horse to live in pain or starve, a probable consequence of the ban, is far less humane than euthanasia and processing.
The United States Department of Agriculture, through its Secretary, Michael Johanns, opposed the bill contending that individuals would find “other ways” of moving these animals without knowledge of APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service); thereby believing that passage of the bill could result in a reduction of the humane treatment of horses. In addition, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, The American Quarter Horse Association and The Horse Welfare Council are all opposed to the bill. In a statement released by The American Quarter Horse Association, the Association criticized the fact that the bill does not have any oversight measures or guidelines for equine rescue operations, nor does the bill adequately consider the cost of such operations.
Most impressively, The Animal Welfare Council, Inc., Colorado Springs, Colorado, has just published a report entitled “The Unintended Consequences of a Ban on the Humane Slaughter (Processing) of Horses in the United States.” This well-researched article written by nine experts in the field can be found at www.animalwelfarecouncil.org. The article is filled with footnotes and research and concludes that the economic impact of such a ban is substantial. The paper makes certain conclusions and discusses consequences concerning a ban on horse slaughter for human consumption in the United States.
First and foremost, the paper indicates a consequence of such a ban is a large increase in the number of abandoned and unwanted horses. The paper reveals that animal rescue facilities are filled and that any such ban will only overburden these facilities. Further, no funding has been allocated to manage the increase of horses which would be admitted to such facilities. The cost of maintaining these unwanted horses could conservatively be $200 million or more. Who is to pay the costs?
Further, the export value of the meat was approximately $26 million in 2005. A ban on horse slaughter would eliminate these animal revenues. The paper further states that the option of getting rid of equine carcasses is becoming more and more difficult. The conclusion of the study is that a ban on horse slaughter could cause detrimental economic consequences which cannot be ignored.
Finally, the ban on horse slaughter creates a very dangerous precedent. Such a ban clearly interferes with an owner or producers’ right to manage his or her livestock according to accepted agricultural practices. The disturbing aspect of the proposed ban is that it is based on subjectiveness and emotion and is not based on food safety or public health. Any time there is a ban for reasons other than food safety or public health, a dangerous precedent is set. Will the banning of beef for slaughter be next since meat creates cholesterol which creates health problems? The precedent is clearly disturbing.
It is important that you contact your United States senator and express your opinion on this very important matter.
Ken is a practicing attorney in Myerstown, Pennsylvania, where a good bit of his practice involves negligence cases. Ken and his wife, Karen, own Sunny Hill Farm Belgians, and they have been exhibiting their six horse hitch for the past few years at most major shows in the east.