Horse slaughter issue likely to grab more congressional attention
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WASHINGTON, May 13, 2014-Legislation that would permanently ban horse slaughter in the U.S. and prohibit the sale of horses to other countries for human consumption may get increased traction in Congress as a temporary ban on slaughter facilities ends.
Currently, under the fiscal year 2014 omnibus appropriations bill, companies are effectively banned from conducting horse slaughter operations in the nation until Sept. 30. This was done by prohibiting funding for USDA inspectors to conduct work in the three facilities that were gearing up to begin operations. That legislation, however, did not ban the sales of horses to Canada and Mexico.
Two pending bills (S. 541, H.R. 1094) in Congress would permanently ban U.S. horse slaughter facilities as well as interstate or foreign sales of horses for human consumption. The Senate bill, offered by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has 28 co-sponsors from both parties and is awaiting action in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The House bill, offered by Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., has 170 cosponsors and was referred to three committees. Meehan and other lawmakers recently requested that the House Appropriations Committee reinstate the temporary ban in the FY 2015 agriculture appropriations bill.
The horse slaughter issue essentially pits the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and animal rights activists against farmers and ranchers who are dealing with an overpopulation of wild horses, which are chewing up pastures and rangeland.
Former Congressman Charlie Stenholm, D-Texas, who has lobbied for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and fought to allow horse slaughter facilities to open, said keeping those U.S. facilities closed has not reduced the number of horses sold across the border, where the animals may not be treated as humanely as in the United States.
Stenholm said there are more horses being turned loose as people learn they cannot afford the animals, and that there is no practical market for them. Stenholm estimates there are about 50,000 horses in the wild, mostly on public lands in the western United States.
As for other options, euthanizing a horse and burying the carcass can cost between $400 and $2,000, Stenholm said, noting that a farmer also would lose out on a potential $500 from the sale to a slaughterhouse.
HSUS spokesperson Holly Gane said her organization supports contraceptive efforts to reduce the horse population rather than slaughter. “Public support is on the side of the horses,” Gane said.
HSUS said that according to a national poll conducted in 2012, 80 percent of Americans disapprove of horse slaughter. The organization said “kill buyers” gather up horses from random sources and then sell them to operations in Canada and Mexico. The organization said USDA reports indicate that about 92 percent of the animals going to slaughter in this manner are healthy and could still have practical uses.
Attorney Blair Dunn, who represents two of the companies that have tried to open up horse slaughter facilities, Valley Meats in Roswell, N.M., and Rains Natural Meats in Missouri, said his clients intend to resume plans to open facilities when the temporary ban expires.
“This is not at all a finished deal,” Dunn said. “Nothing has changed substantially [in Congress]. If there weren't people eating (horsemeat), there would be no demand.”
Dunn said extensive drought has left a lot of animals without forage space, and that there are simply “far too many horses.”
He said his clients lost at least $500,000 in set-up costs when Congress essentially shut down the facilities. “And that's with no attorney fees,” Dunn said.
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