— Bill sails with a 263 to 146 vote last Thursday.
— If the Senate follows the House's lead, 92,000 horses have
U.S. House of Representatives legislators spoke last week during the
first week of session since recess. The vote of attention on behalf of
agriculturalists, as well as animal rights activists, was House
Resolution 503, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. Legislators
said yes by a 263 to 146 vote to a ban that has the potential of leaving
approximately 1 percent, or 92,000 horses, in the U.S. with an
undetermined fate. Of the 9.2 million head in the U.S., roughly 1
percent are slaughtered each year at the three slaughtering facilities
left in the country.
The passing of the legislation surprised many in the livestock industry
including Tammy Pate, a horse owner and trainer from Helena, MT, who
testified at a hearing in Washington D.C. held in early August.
“To be honest, I am surprised,” said Pate.
Adding to the shock value was the fact that the proponents of the bill
needed 218 votes and only had 203 as of the first week of this month,
according to numerous releases from both sides.
Until the bill passes the Senate, nothing will change. However, if the
Senate follows suit, it will immediately cease all horse slaughtering in
the U.S. The exact language of the bill reads: “To amend the Horse
Protection Act to 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.”
The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Sweeney, R-NY, as well as Rep. Ed
Whitfield, R-KY, attracted attention from all facets, including those
with celebrity status. Last Tuesday, the issue drew hundreds of people
to Washington, D.C., to protest on Capitol Hill. Even Willie Nelson’s
daughter, Amy, read a poem during the rally. Opponents also showed
photographs of horses with bloodied and lacerated faces, saying that is
the result of being crammed into trailers that would carry the animals
“What more can you do to mistreat a horse than ship one 1,500 miles and
submit them to slaughter for a foreign delicacy?” said Wayne Pacelle,
president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, which
reportedly have $111 million at their disposal for this particular
At the rally and at previous hearings, Sweeney, the lead sponsor of the
bill, spoke of horse slaughtering as one of the country’s most
“It is one of the most inhumane, brutal, shady practices going on in the
U.S. today,” said Sweeney.
Sweeney argued that the slaughter of horses is different from the
slaughter of cattle and chickens because horses are American icons.
“They’re as close to human as any animal you can get,” said Rep. John
The topic has turned into a battle of emotions, evident by those showing
constant support vocally, as well as financially. The issue has
triggered emotional responses, even from some unaffected by the
industry, including Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens. His spokesperson
said last Tuesday, “He’s pleased with the outpouring of support and
attention this issue has drawn. He’s looking forward to the vote. He is
confident it will pass, but he understands the need to continue to shore
After the passing of the bill by a large majority, agricultural leaders,
among them Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, began issuing releases
condemning the decision.
“We have serious concerns that the welfare of these horses would be
negatively impacted by a ban on slaughter,” Johanns said.
Opponents of the ban said it is obvious proponents influenced
individuals’ emotions by referring to the horse as an American icon and
avoiding the facts of the matter. In fact, proponents plastered full
page ads in several largely-read newspapers including USA Today, The
Dallas Morning News, San Antonio Express-News and many others.
“These unwanted horses are often sick, unfit or problem animals,” said
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-MN. “Many of them are already living in pain or
discomfort, and tens of thousands more could be neglected, starved or
abandoned if their owners no longer have processing available as an
American horse meat is sold mostly for people to eat in Europe and Asia;
some also goes to U.S. zoos.
Although there is still a long process ahead before slaughtering is
permanently halted, if slaughtering did end, plants in Canada and Mexico
probably would take over some of the business, supporters say. Unlike
other countries, U.S. law requires that horses and other livestock be
unable to feel pain before they are killed.
The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte,
R-VA, said that for some horses, “these facilities provide a humane
alternative to additional suffering or possible dangerous situations.”
Some say enacting the bill would be inhumane to horses. Former
Congressman Charlie Stenholm says, “City and county government
understand that when there are unwanted dogs and cats, they end up
having to deal with them. What about 125,000 unwanted horses? Who is
going to care for them?”
According to a recent poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a
national political and public affairs research firm, 68 percent of
Americans do not support the slaughter of horses for meat.
Proponents say they will start immediately developing a strategy to pass
Pate is concerned and urges ranchers to speak up. She said supporters
are voicing their misleading information to the general public while
ranchers are taking the high road, but said now is the time.
“No one really thought this bill would go anywhere, but it did,” said
Pate. “Horse owners, horse lovers, ranchers and on down the line, need
to come together and use common sense or we could lose in the Senate. We
have to become a level headed, organized voice,” said Pate.
Although she is concerned, she said it probably won't even come to a
vote in the Senate and it may be postponed by opponents until it runs
out or the president could even veto it. However, she said the activists
are not to be taken for granted, further emphasizing the need for
agricultural organizations to speak out just as loud as supporters of a
permanent ban. — Mike Deering, WLJ Editor