Over the objection of meat groups and USDA, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.R. 503, "The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act," Thursday. 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 Senators John Ensign (R-NV), a veterinarian, and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) have reintroduced an identical measure (S. 1915).

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.

"The bill sets a dangerous precedent by banning a livestock product for reasons other than food safety or public health," says Joy Philippi, a pork producer from Bruning, NE, and president of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). "We're very disappointed by this vote, which clearly was based on emotion, not science."

With no financial provision for care of these animals included in the legislation, 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.

NPPC says it 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 millions to later join them.

In fact, 32,000 wild horses and burros (many of them more than 10 years old) currently are being 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 found a horse-processing ban would devastate the horse market by devaluing horses as much as $304/horse.

In a Sept. 6 letter, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns wrote to the House of Representatives' Committee on Ag listing reasons why the agency opposed H.R. 503. Among them were:

  • The requirement USDA take possession of unwanted horses would create a significant burden.
  • There's no funding mechanism to enable USDA to take ownership of unwanted horses or compensate horse owners for monetary losses due to the ban.
  • H.R. 503 restricts interstate commerce in horses intended for slaughter for human consumption and would reduce exports.
  • There are serious concerns that the welfare of these horses would be negatively impacted by a ban on slaughter.
-- Joe Roybal