Horse Slaughtering: The New Terrorism?

  • Share
  • Read Later
With all the other problems piling up — soaring energy costs, the war in Iraq, tens of millions of Americans with no health-care insurance, skyrocketing federal debt — Republicans were bound to get a kick in the rear when the only bill they considered this week on the House floor was one to look out for the welfare of horses. Democrats stampeded to complain. "I'm concerned about horses, but I'm much much more concerned about the American people," snapped House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. Others threatened to vote "neigh" just to get in a pun.

But hold your horses. (And that is this story's last pun. Promise). Few bills have stirred more passion, pro and con, than the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. It passed the House by a vote of 263-146 Thursday (with a large majority of Democrats supporting it, even though they griped that the chamber had more pressing matters). Here's the issue: about 90,000 horses are sent each year to three plants in this country (two in Texas and one in Illinois, all foreign-owned), where they're slaughtered and the meat is shipped to restaurants in Europe and Asia.

Horsemeat is considered a delicacy for many foreign palates. But Americans raise horses for racing, work or companionship, and polls show a large majority of the public finds slaughtering them for a gourmet dinner to be repugnant. "It's one of the most inhumane, brutal and shady practices going on in the United States today," complains Republican Rep. John Sweeney, who sponsored the measure to ban the sale and transport of horses to the slaughterhouses. Sweeney's congressional district includes the Saratoga Springs harness racing track.

The pet food industry stopped using horsemeat about 12 years ago. Some 90% of the horses still sent to the slaughterhouses aren't old or sick but in good condition, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Killer buyers" roam the country purchasing horses but not telling owners they'll end up at a slaughterhouse.

Hundreds of horse industry organizations, racehorse owners, trainers, jockeys and humane societies back the ban. Hollywood has also turned out in full force with more than 50 entertainers — including Bo Derek, Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Willie Nelson and Paul McCartney — publicly opposing the slaughter.

But organizations fighting the ban number in the hundreds as well. State cattlemen's associations, pork and poultry producers and farm bureaus oppose the measure, fearing it would give an opening for animal rights organizations to block the slaughter of other animals for food. The Agriculture Department also doesn't want the measure. When the bill's proponents passed an amendment in the House and Senate last year blocking funding for USDA inspectors at the three slaughterhouses, the department allowed the plants to pay for the inspectors themselves to keep operating.

More importantly, the American Veterinary Medical Association has come out against the ban, fearing rescue shelters would be swamped with hundreds of thousands of unwanted horses while others would be sold to unregulated slaughterhouses overseas and brutalized even more. The U.S. ban "does not solve problems, it creates problems," complains Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, which is almost unanimously opposed to the measure.

The Senate is expected to take up the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act later this fall. Maybe after that, Congress can pay more attention to the humans.