Big battle shaping over horse slaughter

Bill in U.S. Congress draws opposition; some states seeking new processing plants
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Apr 01, 2009

National Report — The new U.S. Congress and legislators in at least a dozen states are on a collision course over the emotionally charged issue of horse slaughter.

It's shaping up as a states'-rights vs. federal-law battle, and both sides seem to have plenty of supporters — including veterinarians.

While the proposed federal legislation would prohibit the slaughter of horses for human consumption, several state legislatures are advancing resolutions opposing that bill, instructing their delegates to vote against it and in some cases authorizing horse-processing plants, which backers consider one means of dealing with rapidly swelling numbers of abandoned and neglected horses nationwide.

The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2009 (H.R. 503) charged out of the Congressional gate in January, introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.). Referred to committee, it would prohibit horse slaughter in the United States for the purpose of human consumption and impose tough criminal penalties for transporting horses inside and outside U.S. borders for that purpose.
The measure has the backing of prominent animal-welfare groups and animal-rights advocates.


State horse-slaughter actions
U.S. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, a veterinarian, is a co-sponsor of the Senate version, S. 311. He did not respond to DVM Newsmagazine telephone calls and e-mails through his press office for comment on his rationale in supporting the Senate measure.

"Every day that passes means there is more torment and more suffering for America's horses," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who says seeing the bill pass is a top priority for his organization. "We ask leaders in Congress for an up or down vote and passage of this critical legislation."

The American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners both have taken positions against H.B. 503 as written. Both say it fails to address adequately the long-term welfare of the horses not slaughtered.

Meanwhile, state legislators who recently introduced bills that would open the way for horse-processing plants in their states or resolutions opposing H.R. 503 say they are responding to intense pressure from their constituents.

The nation's last three slaughter plants, one in Illinois and two in Texas, closed in 2007 under state court rulings.

But Illinois GOP State Rep. James Sacia introduced a bill Feb. 24 that would repeal the law that shut down the former Cavel plant in DeKalb, Ill., which exported horse meat abroad for human consumption.

He's not alone. Lawmakers in at least 11 other states introduced bills that, while varying in means and approach, support horse slaughter and some open the way for processing plants to be built.

The final sticking point might be the phrase "for human consumption." H.R. 503 doesn't address horse slaughter for other purposes. The question for those states considering new plants might be whether those plants could make money processing animals for purposes other than for human consumption.

"Lots of constituents were begging us to do this, saying give us an alternative to what we have now, which is nothing," said North Dakota Rep. Rod Froelich (D), who along with state Sen. Joe Miller (R) is sponsoring a bill authorizing $75,000 for a study to see if a privately owned processing plant would be viable in their state.