Senate Kills Slaughter Hurdle

By November 15, 2011
A clearly terrified gray horse makes its way through a kill chute in the march to slaughter.

A terrified horse makes its way through a "kill chute."

It’s a bad news day for opponents of horse slaughter. A congressional conference committee passed a version of the 2012 Agriculture, Commerce and Transportation/Housing budget that excised language preventing the opening of horse slaughter plants in the U.S.

That protective language ― which de-funded the USDA’s inspection of horse meat destined for human consumption ― has been part of the annual budget since 2007.  Currently pending in both the House and Senate is the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (HR-2966 and S-1176), which would put an outright ban on horse slaughter plants and the export of horses for that purpose. Although the conference bill will still have to face a full congressional vote, animal rights say there’s “slim” chance the bill won’t pass.

Opponents of the move are being urged to contact state senators.

The conference committee was charged with merging the House and Senate versions of this particular appropriations bill. The bill proposed by the House did include the anti-slaughter language, the Senate version did not. “When you think about it, Republicans hold the majority in the House and they stuck with defunding the slaughter, and the Senate which is a majority of Democrats, added that funding back. So while Democrats are typically identified with ecological and conservation causes, the slaughter issue has never really been a party thing,” Equine Welfare Alliance president John Holland said.

Holland noted equine rights activists lost a large swathe of senatorial support in the past three years, due to the elections, death and scandal. Barack Obama (D-IL), Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Joseph Biden (D-DE) were all staunch equine allies in the senate. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Robert Byrd (D-VA), who died, were also key supporters, as was John Ensign (R-NV), who resigned due to scandal.

“It’s easy to feel discouraged at times like this, and I can tell you we’re disappointed, but we’re going to be redoubling our efforts at getting the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act passed,” said Kate Wall, the Humane Society of America’s executive in charge of grass roots outreach. “It’s time to take a deep breath and roll up our sleeves and work towards another solution to prevent this barbaric practice of slaughtering these iconic creatures. It’s a tough day.”

The congressional shift comes on the heels of a widely discredited report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office this summer. Positioned as a reasoned “study,” the 65-page document claims to make a financial case for re-opening U.S. horse slaughter plants, but critics said the piece lacked hard data, relying instead on rhetoric and anecdote to make its case.
Congressional agriculture committee members who lead up conference committee that voted this morning were also the driving force behind the report. “The ag committee requested that report fully knowing it would come to this,” Holland said. “They wanted ‘cover,’ so they could go back to their constituents and say, ‘Listen, I know you are concerned about horses, but the Government Accountability Office is telling us we have to do this.’”

Horse slaughter fuels a market for horsemeat consumption in Europe and Asia. The companies that control the industry are European, and it will largely be up to those companies to decide whether they want to re-open slaughter plants in the U.S. “They know the transportation costs will be less, but they will have to face a lot of opposition from the activists and a lot of them left the U.S. market pretty tired of all that,” Holland said.

Even if they do want to attempt a comeback, it remains to be seen how far they can progress in one year. The de-funding provision could wind up back in a 2013 budget, and because of state laws, they are prohibited from opening horse slaughter plants in California, Illinois, Texas and Florida.

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