Over the objection of meat groups and USDA, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.R. 503, “The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act,” in early September. The legislation, which prohibits the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption, passed by a vote of 263 to 146. The measure now moves on to the Senate, where an identical measure (S. 1915) awaits action.

The new law effectively would shut down three foreign-owned plants that annually process about 40 million lbs. of horsemeat for human consumption, mostly to Europe and Japan. The three plants include Dallas Crown in Kaufman, TX; Beltex Corp. in Fort Worth; and Cavel International in DeKalb, IL.

With no financial provision in the legislation for care, tens of thousands of unwanted horses presumably will be placed in unregulated horse adoption facilities or abandoned. Lawmakers approved the bill despite a recommendation from the House Ag Committee that no action be taken on it, and despite the Energy and Commerce Committee discharging the measure without a recommendation.

Ag groups supported a bipartisan amendment to H.R. 503 offered by Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Collin Peterson (D-MN) that would have ensured sufficient certified sanctuaries to care for abandoned and neglected horses before a ban on processing them could take effect. The amendment failed on a 177-229 vote.

USDA says 65,976 horses were harvested in the U.S. in 2004, and 91,757 in 2005. The American Association of Equine Practitioners estimates basic subsistence care for an additional 70,000 horses annually would cost $1,825/horse/year. That's just the first year. Then there are the subsequent years of care, and that for the presumed millions to later join them.

In fact, 32,000 wild horses and burros (many of them more than 10 years old) currently are maintained in pens by the Bureau of Land Management at an annual cost to taxpayers of $160 million/year.

A recent analysis, “The Unintended Consequences of a Ban on the Humane Slaughter (Processing) of Horses in the U.S.,” found a ban on horse processing would actually do more harm to horse welfare in this country. Commissioned by the Animal Welfare Council (www.animalwelfarecouncil.org), the study by nine university researchers also concluded a horse-processing ban would devastate the horse market by devaluing horses as much as $304/horse.

USDA announces drought aid

USDA announced a $780-million national drought aid package, which includes a $50-million Livestock Assistance Grant Program. States will receive block grants for distribution to livestock producers in counties designated as D3 or D4 on the Drought Monitor anytime between March 7 and Aug. 31. A list of eligibility criteria and eligible counties can be found at www.usda.gov.

Nearly $700 million of the package will be the result of moving up counter-cyclical payments, with another $30 million in unused conservation funds. USDA Secretary Mike Johanns said, “Today's actions emphasize USDA's commitment to use every resource available to help farmers and ranchers who are impacted by drought.”