House Subcommittee Hears Slaughter Testimony

Animal rights advocates are urging lawmakers to pass a bill banning the slaughter of U.S. horses for consumption abroad, arguing the practice is inhumane. Opponents of the proposal say it would actually increase cruelty in the form of abandonment, abuse and neglect.

Witnesses at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing Thursday recounted graphic stories of the methods of slaughter and provided photos of bloodied horses.

"From the transport of horses on inappropriate conveyances for long periods of time without food, water or rest--to the very ugly slaughter process in which horses react with pain and fear, no evidence exists to support the claim that horse slaughter is a form of humane euthanasia," said Nicholas Dodman, BVMA, MRCVS, DVA, MAPBC, Dipl. ACVA ACVB, one of the founders of Veterinarians for Equine Welfare.

The last three horse slaughterhouses in the United States closed in 2007 but horses are currently exported to Mexico and Canada for slaughter there.

The Agriculture Department said about 21,000 horses were sent to Mexico for slaughter in 2007.

The bill under consideration (H.R. 6598) would criminalize the domestic or international sale, delivery or receipt of horses for processing for human consumption. The House passed a similar measure last year but not the Senate.

In June, the Supreme Court turned down an appeal from the owners of a now-closed horse slaughtering plant who challenged an Illinois law prohibiting the killing of horses for human consumption.

Some veterinarians say a ban on slaughter would eliminate a necessary end-of-life option for unwanted horses.

"Those of us who are in the field every day practicing equine medicine know the harsh realities confronting horses that are unwanted," said Douglas Corey, DVM, former president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. "Horses are left unsold at auctions, even with a rock-bottom sale price. Others endure a worse fate of being neglected by their owners or abandonment."

The sides disagree about what percent of slaughtered horses are unwanted and whether there are sufficient rescue facilities to deal with the animals if slaughter were outlawed.

Former Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, said the proposal would have unintended consequences, imposing significant costs on local communities who would now have to find humane placements for the horses and burdening livestock markets with paying for euthanasia.--Stephanie S. Garlow

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The Associated Press

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