22 August 2006

From the Mailbag


Here is a link to a North Texas E-News article concerning H.R. 503, the bill currently being considered in the United States House of Representatives that would ban the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption.

Not surprisingly, the Agriculture Committee (of the House of Representatives) opposes the legislation, under the guise of humane considerations for horses. What, after all, would happen to all those unwanted horses if people weren't allowed to slaughter them for a profit? Presumably, these horses would suffer terribly. Of course, we don't allow the profit-generating slaughter of cats and dogs for food in this country, and they don't suffer miserably as a result. When a cat or dog becomes infirm with an incurable illness and is in serious pain as a result, we euthanize them as humanely and mercifully as possible. We don't transport them inhumanely across the country to one of the only three horse-slaughtering facilities in the country (one in Illinois, two in Texas). We don't load them on and off trucks with cattle prods, beatings with rebar poles, etc. We don't "knock" them with a captive bolt pistol, a pneumatic gun which fires an eight-inch pin into the animal's skull. (When aimed properly, the captive bolt pistol renders the animal unconscious with a single "knock"; however, when misaimed, as is often the case, the animal suffers terribly from the "knock" and may be "knocked" several times. Also, even when "knocking" does render the animal unconscious, there is no guarantee that the animal will remain unconscious during the slaughtering process.)

According to Gail Eisnitz, chief investigator of the Humane Farming Association and author of the book Slaughterhouse, each year between 100,000 and 300,000 pleasure and race horses find their way into one of America's three horse-slaughtering plants (p. 109). Eisnitz notes that "Most horses slaughtered in the United States are young, healthy animals whose owners simply have no use for them" (p. 109). In the course of her investigations, Eisnitz received a lead "about a Midwest horse plant where horses were allegedly beaten and stuck alive" (p. 112). The "sticker" is the slaughterhouse worker who cuts the animal's throat. Being "stuck" refers to the animal's having his/her throat cut.]

Throughout American history, horses have been respected and revered in a way that other farm animals have not been (perhaps because of the indispensable role horses played in the pioneers' westward expansion, together with the close personal bond that many people form with their horse companions). One result of this respect and reverence is that it is illegal to sell horse flesh for human consumption in the U.S. Why then are there any horse-slaughtering plants in the U.S.? Answer: Because it is not illegal to export horse flesh for human consumption elsewhere. The laws that banned selling horse flesh for human consumption were designed to protect horses from slaughter, but the original intent of these laws has been circumvented by laws that now allow the export of horse flesh to Europe and Japan.

Despite the fact that horses suffer terribly from inhumane handling and transport and inhumane treatment at the slaughter plant, the Ag Committee, as noted above, is on record opposing H.R. 503, under the guise of concern for the humane treatment of horses. For example, Ag Committee Chairman Goodlatte opposes H.R. 503 on the grounds that "it left too many unanswered questions that would detrimentally affect the welfare of America's horses." Just how no longer being inhumanely transported and slaughtered would detrimentally affect these horses' welfare, Goodlatte did not say. Goodlatte did say this: "this is not a bill that will improve the treatment of horses. Too little has been done to deal with the consequences of destroying a legitimate industry by government fiat. If anything, H.R. 503 in its current form will lead to more suffering for the horses it purports to help." Again, it remains unclear how banning the inhumane transport and slaughter of horses would lead to more suffering for them. But it is clear from his remarks that Goodlatte would like to protect the "legitimate" horse-slaughtering industry.

Now look at some of the amendments to H.R. 503 that are supposedly designed to "protect horses." Here is the fifth amendment proposed by Rep. King:

This amendment of H.R. 503 would provide that horses could not be shipped, transported, moved, delivered, received, possessed, purchased, sold, or donated to be slaughtered at a plant that is not in existence on the date of the enactment of this act.
How does that help horses? It doesn't. It does, however, greatly help the only three horse-slaughtering plants in the U.S. permanently corner the horse-slaughtering market. I don't know who runs the horse-slaughtering plants in Texas, but the horse-slaughtering plant in Illinois—Cavel International—is owned by a Belgian company, which grosses $48 million in annual sales. See story about Cavel International here.

What King's Amendment #5 does do is effectively gut H.R. 503 and leave the status quo in place. A boon for Cavel. Not much to write home about for the 100-300 thousand horses who will suffer as a result.

Look at the amendment proposed by Rep. Peterson: "This amendment to H.R. 503 would make H.R. 503 a pilot program for the states of Kentucky and New York." Since neither of these states has any horse-slaughtering plants, its not clear how this amendment serves to ensure that horses are treated humanely.

Here is Rep. Conway's proposed amendment: "This amendment to H.R. 503 would require the secretary to compensate any horse owner who, no longer having the option of selling a horse for processing, suffers a loss in value of his horse and incurs the cost of euthanasia and disposal of the horse." Gee, I wonder if Conway would support a bill that would require the government to compensate people for the cost of having their cats and dogs euthanized. Perhaps the government should pay the full cost of human funerals, too. If we're going to compensate people for the costs of their horse losses, should we compensate them for the cost of their human losses as well?

Rep. King's third amendment would exempt horses that are owned or controlled by a state or political subdivision of a state or by an individual who purchased the horse from a state or local government. Not much benefit here for state-owned horses. I assume that many state-owned horses are used in the line of duty by police forces and the like. Inhumane transport and slaughter seems an unfitting way to thank these horses for their years of service.

Rep. King's second amendment would exempt horses that will be processed for charitable or humanitarian relief purposes. Once again, Rep. King is clearly looking out for the horses' best interest.

Make no mistake about it, those on the Ag Committee who oppose H.R. 503 do not have the interests of horses in mind. What they do have in mind is protecting the corporate profits of Cavel International, as well as the profits of horse owners. Anyone who favors the humane treatment of animals should write their representatives and encourage them to support H.R. 503 in its original unamended form!

Best wishes,

Mylan [Engel]

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