Slaughter Bills Advancing in Congress

Congress is moving again to put a stop to the slaughter of horses even after legal rulings that have shut down the country's three slaughter plants.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a bill banning horse slaughter for human consumption on Wednesday. The vote was 15-7.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, was among those voting against the ban. She previously supported bills ending the practice, citing her experience riding and raising horses. Two of the country's three slaughter plants are in Texas.

Spokesman Marc Short said Hutchison voted against the ban this time because she believes the issue does not need to be addressed at the federal level. Hutchison believes recent a federal appeals court ruling upholding Texas' ban on horse slaughter illustrates that states are capable of handling the issue, Short said.

The U.S. House was expected to vote Thursday on a bill restoring a ban on the slaughter of wild horses and burros. The ban had been in place for more than 30 years, but Congress changed the law three years ago to permit older and unwanted horses to be sold for slaughter.

"To allow wild horses, a living symbol of the American West, to be sacrificed and slaughtered at the hands of an ill-advised and misguided federal policy that never should have been implemented represents great disrespect to the will of the American people and our nation's heritage," said Rep. Nick Rahall, House Natural Resources Committee chairman and sponsor of the legislation.

Animal protection groups and their allies have been trying for years to ban horse slaughter. The 2006 agriculture spending bill was stripped of money for horse inspectors' salaries and expenses.

Ban supporters had hoped that would end horse slaughter, but the U.S. Agriculture Department decided instead to offer horse slaughter plants inspections for a fee.

The slaughter ban advocates had more success in the courts. A federal appeals court in January upheld Texas' law banning the sale of horse meat for human consumption. In March a U.S. district court in Washington ordered USDA to stop the fee-for-service horse meat inspections.

The decisions have forced the shutdown of operations at the Texas plants and a third in Illinois.

"It's a new day. Given all the plants are not slaughtering horses for human consumption, it's easier than ever for Congress to halt the barbaric practice of killing these American icons," said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.

Charles Stenholm, a former Texas congressman who has lobbied for groups opposing the ban, conceded "it's not looking good." He said the consequences of the ban will soon be seen when "unwanted horses suddenly start showing up on county roads that somebody has to take care of."

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The Associated Press

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