Agriculture Subcommittee Strongly Disapproves of Slaughter Bill

The House Agricultural Subcommittee listened to testimonies from a panel of horse industry and veterinary leaders yesterday (July 27) concerning an amendment (H.R. 503) to the Horse Protection Act. After listening to a lengthy discussion, members of the House Agricultural Subcommittee voted 37-3 to discharge the bill with "disfavor" and recommended that the House vote against it.

However, before casting their votes, several legislators proposed what Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the head of agricultural committee, referred to as "unusual" amendments to H.R. 503, which included federal compensation for horse owners who want to use slaughter as a means of euthanasia (but who would not be allowed to do so under this legislation). Additionally, it was recommended to grandfather in the three existing slaughter plants—which would allow them to continue processing. All amendments proposed were accepted by voice vote.

Just two days prior (July 25), another panel debated the same bill in the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee. Advocates of the bill lost support and a strong congressional ally in Joe Barton (R-TX), chair of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee.

Barton said, "I would have voted for last year's (version of the) bill if it came to a vote, but the more I've learned about it, the more I have come to be against it."

Barton added that the agricultural community and rural America are against the ban. The bill was discharged from Energy and Commerce Subcommittee without a vote.

According to the bill, H.R. 503 will, "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." A similar bill (S. 1915) awaits a hearing in the Senate.

Those For and Against
Those in attendance during the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing who supported the bill included T. Boone Pickens, an Texas oil tycoon and husband of the former Madeleine Paulson, a longtime Thoroughbred owner and breeder; Patty Hogan, VMD, of New Jersey Equine Clinic; Russell Williams, owner of Hanover Shoe Farms; Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and John Sweeney (D-NY), both sponsors of the bill; and Mary Bono (R-CA).

Panelists against the bill included Bonnie Beaver, DVM, MS, past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA); Doug Corey, DVM, 2007 president-elect of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP); Dick Koehler, vice president of Beltex Corporation (a Texas-based slaughterhouse); Goodlatte; and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

Those speaking against the bill when it came before  the Agricultural Subcommittee included Don Sherwood (R-PA); Charles Stenholm, former House Committee on Agriculture ranking member; Thomas R. Lenz, DVM, MS, past president and chairman of AAEP's Equine Welfare Committee; Beaver; Tammy Pate, a member of the American Quarter Horse Association, Frank Bowman, the president of the Horsemen’s Council of Illinois; and Paxton Ramsey, Young Cattlemen’s Committee chairman and Agriculture Policy Committee member.

An invitation to the sponsors of H.R. 503 was extended, but they were unable to attend. The Agricultural Subcommittee received no other requests for testimony.

Reasons Why
In his written testimony, Lenz, expressed the AAEP's two major concerns with the bill:

"This bill will negatively impact the health and welfare of horses across the country, and offers no solution to the current problem of what to do with horses that are no longer needed or useful to their owners.

"Second, horses processed at USDA-regulated facilities under the supervision of federal veterinarians are treated with dignity and euthanized humanely."

During the hearing, Lenz said, "A horse can become unwanted because it is has failed to meet its owners expectations because of old age, poor performance or lameness; it may be dangerous and present a risk to its handlers; or its owners may no longer be capable of providing physical or financial care. These are usually the lowest-valued horses in the industry and bring only a few hundred dollars at sale compared to the national average selling price for a horse of $3,100."

However, proponents for the ban pointed out USDA findings that 92.3% of horses that arrive at slaughter plants are in "good condition."

"The slaughter issue is not entirely about the slaughter act itself," Hogan said. "It's about the way the horses are treated on their way to the slaughterhouse. Sometimes, we as veterinarians, we hide behind the term humane. Is slaughter really the answer to the problem of irresponsible horse ownership?"

Whitfield said polls have shown that people don't know that horses are slaughtered for human consumption. However, Corey pointed out that those polls reflected the emotions of the general public and not the facts known to the horse industry.

Corey said that if those same people were told that when horse slaughter was banned, unwanted horses might face neglect and abuse, their answers would be different.

"Humane euthanasia at a horse processing facility is much preferred as to seeing one starved to death," he said.

However, some horses owners and veterinarians dispute that death by captive bolt is humane euthanasia. "I have personally been to been to a slaughterhouse during my residency," Hogan said. "I believe there is some confusion between euthanasia and horse slaughter. And to equate the two severely insults your intelligence."

The AAEP and the AVMA both recognize the use of the captive bolt as a humane form of euthanasia, and it meets the requirements for euthanasia, which were created with input from the Human Society of the United States.

When asked if there could ever be a compromise on the bill, Corey answered, "I definitely think there is always room to sit down at a table and talk about it. The AAEP is always willing."

However, Picket disagreed, "How do you compromise slaughter?"

Bowman summed it up by saying, "H.R. 503 is not a free vote. There are nearly 2 million horse owners in the United States who will feel the effects of this bill."

After two days of hearings, H.R. 503 heads to the House Rules Committee, where it will be considered in early September.


About the Author

Chad Mendell

Chad Mendell is the former Managing Editor for .

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