Horse owners concerned about proposed transportation legislation
“H.R. 6598, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2008, would ban the transportation of horses to slaughter, making it a federal crime,” explained Nancy Schlepp of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation during its equine seminar on Nov. 9 in Billings, Mont. “It would also affect the transportation of horses in general, such as to rodeos, ranches or for hunting.”
Horses have been transported to slaughter facilities in Canada and Mexico since the Fifth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruling shut down the Texas horse slaughter plants, and the Seventh Circuit Federal Court of Appeals shut down the plant in Illinois.
Now, animal rights activists, such as the Humane Society of the United States, have been pushing for the passage of this bill, H.R. 6598, to further prevent horse slaughter, which they claim is an act of cruelty.
“H.R. 6598 addresses the inherent cruelty in allowing the slaughter of our horses for human consumption,” the organization states on its Web site, www.hsus.org.
Furthermore, the Humane Society of the United States said horses are a national symbol of beauty, which deserves respect and protection from slaughter.
However, horse slaughter in the United States was deemed humane by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“When horses to go Canada, they are treated in a humane manner,” said Bill Parker of the Billings Livestock Commis-sion horse sales division. “I know because I have a relationship with those guys. But, the horses that go to Mexico are not that lucky.”
“This Humane Society of the United States is not the Humane Society (Humane Society of America) that looks after the well being of dogs and cats,” said Schlepp. “The Humane Society of the United States is a subsidiary of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). They are creating a war on agriculture Š They have a lot of money and time to spend in (Washington) D.C.”
Horses are not pets, said Parker.
“My cat is my pet; my horse is my business,” he said. “People who make their living with horses take good care of their horses and livestock.”
Currently, the proposed legislation, H.R. 6598 has been voted through the judiciary committee of the House of Represen-tatives in Washington, D.C. The House would have passed the bill, had it not been blocked in the Senate, said Schlepp, who serves as the MFBF legislative advisor for national affairs.
The equine industry with its lowered base price is already suffering from the closure of the Texas and Illinois slaughter plants, said Schlepp.
“There have been reports of some horses being let out on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and Forest Service land in Montana,” she said. “There are 140,000 horses in the state that we know about.”
Owning a horse can be expensive. According to Parker, it costs the sale barn $5.65 for feed and a little labor to keep a horse in a lot each day. It would cost between $400 and $500 to keep a horse in a lot to prepare it for sale.
“The cheapest anyone could care for a horse is $5 a day,” he said.
Horse owners who cannot afford to keep their horses have been finding ways to get rid of them because they have no value, said Parker. If they have value, people will find ways to care for their horses, he noted.
Those in the Montana horse industry are concerned about the number of horses that would be affected and the cost of the consequences of this proposed legislation if it were to become law.
“It costs $1,500 to do the process of putting an animal down through the veterinarian's office,” said Jan Parker, who in on the MFBF horse welfare committee. “In Montana alone, it would cost $17 million to take care of these horses.”
The urban legislators pushing for the approval of H.R. 6598 are not concerned with the costs of dealing with the massive number of horse carcasses and how to dispose of them, added Schlepp.
The U.S. government cannot afford to feed all of the nation's horses, agreed Parker. “With the shape the economy is in now, the U.S. government cannot to feed all the unwanted horses,” he said. “I don't think it will ever happen - the government feeding the unwanted horses in feedlots. I think those horses will be turned loose.”
While there have been scattered reports across the nation about unwanted horses being left at stockyards, Parker said there have been no such instances at the Billings Livestock Commission.
The loss of the horse slaughter market in the United States cost U.S. horse owners between $30 and $40 in the base price for their horses, devaluing the nation's horses.
“It has taken profit away from the U.S. breeders and given it to those in foreign countries,” said Parker. “There are a large number of horses that have lost their usefulness and now something has to be done with them. The most sensible thing would be to process those horses.”
That said, Parker said he doesn't see the U.S. horse slaughter facilities reopening, even after meeting the individual states' demands in processing regulations.
“The U.S. slaughter plant reopening would be the best scenario because then the livestock owners could control how the horses are treated,” he said. “But, I don't think we'll ever see another horse slaughter plant in the United States mainly because they are foreign owned and I don't think those foreign owners will see a reason to spend the money to reopen the plants in this kind of environment.”
If H.R. 6598 passes, the horse industry will lose its safety net, said Parker. “I'm afraid this bill may become a reality and we won't be able to sell our horses as we see fit,” he said. “If this bill passes, it will not only affect the bottom end of the horse market, but go all the way to the top.”
Ranchers and other horse owners are going to have to make a lot of noise to combat H.R. 6598, said Parker. “We have very little financial backing and a lot of common sense,” he said. “We have got to fight this with a lot of noise and common sense because the people who are for this have a lot of financial backing and no common sense.”
Graham suggested farmers and ranchers reach out to those in urban areas, invite them to the farm or ranch and explain why the activities they see are important to the nation's food supply and to the ranchers' and farmers' livelihoods.
“We have to let our emotions show,” said Schlepp. “Let them know how we love our animals. That the decisions we make are really for the welfare of the animals.”
Janine wrote on Dec 19, 2008 3:50 PM:
Slaughter only accounts for about a tenth of the horses who die every year from all causes. How do the other 90 percent of us horse owners manage?
If you want to raise the value of your horses, try training them to do something. That will raise their value far more than the $30 or $40 you claim lack of slaughter has cost. "