Legislative Efforts on Horse Slaughter


Over the past thirteen years, a number of legislative efforts have been undertaken by concerned citizens and organizations alike to make horse slaughter a thing of the past. The success of such efforts have been negative so far, as noted by the fact every month hundreds of American horses are shipped for slaughter abroad. Most clear successes achieved were at state level, either passing laws banning horse slaughter like in Illinois, or protecting already existent laws preventing it, the case of Texas during 2003 and 2007, the only exception being the federal appropriations amendment that contributed to the cessation of US-based horse slaughter in 2007. However, the state nature of these measures prevents them from really stopping the practice since the horse slaughtering interest always had plants ready for killing abroad, out of range of US laws. A federal law is needed to stop the bloodbath. And soon bills to such effect were introduced.

Although they have adopted different names during the time, the federal legislation aimed at banning horse slaughter in and from the US is collectively known as the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (AHSPA). A lot of energy, resources and time have been employed by horse owners, rescues, animal welfare organizations and hundreds of citizens, as early as 2002, to pass this bill into law but soon anti-slaughter advocates ran into the gloomy reality of the Capitol’s favor and money peddling day-to-day.

All federal bills to ban horse slaughter introduced so far have been blocked at some point in the lawmaking process by a relatively small group of politicians, many of them far-right, known to cater to big business interests, who have always occupied top-positions in key congressional committees (like agriculture or appropriations) and who would soon adopt a pro-slaughter attitude. And the fact is the horse killers have powerful friends, the best ones money can buy:

During the 107th and 108th Congresses (2001-2005) Congressmen Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) and Charles “Chuckie” Stenholm (D-TX), as heads of the House Agriculture Committee and both rabidly pro-slaughter, effectively blocked the AHSPA in said committee, preventing it from even being called up for debate. His Senate counterparts managed to do the same with the Senate version of the AHSPA, while the obnoxious Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) passed an illegal amendment inside a budget bill legalizing wild horse slaughter. During most of the 109th Congress (2005-2007), Goodlatte and his cronies attempted to block the AHSPA again, although after two years of intense work and several dirty tactics used by the this one was finally voted on and passed by the House of Representatives on September 2006; however the bill was blocked in the Senate using a dirty political maneuver known as “secret hold” by the far-right (and politically-deceased) Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), with the tacit support of Burns and a few other ones. Never called up from the calendar, the AHSPA died when the 109th Congress adjourned in December.

A year before (2005) during that same Congress, the famous Ensign-Byrd (Sweeney-Spratt) amendment to the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2006 (created initially to garner support for the AHSPA and obtain enough leverage to prevent it from being blocked again in the Agriculture Committee) was amazingly passed by both the House and Senate after much opposition and heated debates by the pro-slaughter lobby, leading to the prohibition for USDA to assign funds for mandatory ante-mortem inspections at the three US horse slaughter plants and thus preventing them from exporting their meat to Europe. But, not surprisingly, it was circumvented at the eleventh hour -during the carrier bill’s conference committee- by a conspiracy formed by Congressmen Henry Bonilla (R-TX), chair of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Goodlatte (R-VA), chair of the Agriculture one, and Steve King (R-IA), member of the Agriculture Committee and self-appointed champion of “animal agriculture”, authorizing USDA to create new internal rules to allow the plants to pay for inspections themselves in violation of federal law (21 USC §695) and thus allowing them to keep in operation until September 2007, when the three plants were closed due to state laws. It is worth noting how keenly USDA itself lobbied and contributed to the gutting of the Ensign-Byrd Amendment in order to allow the three horse slaughter plants to continue operating. It was more than evident that USDA was nothing but a front for big buck agribusiness, far-right lobbyists and, of course, the foreign-owned horse slaughter industry, in an appalling demonstration of conflicting interests.

These “new rules”, which USDA released in less than a few weeks after the now disarmed Ensign-Byrd Amendment was finally enacted, were eventually ruled illegal by the US DC District Court in late March 2007. By that time the two Texas plants (Beltex Corp. and Dallas Crown, Inc. were closed due to a ruling from the 5th Circuit US Court of Appeals upholding the 1949 Texas state law (Texas Agriculture Code ¬ß149.001 et seq.) banning horse meat trade in the state. The other plant remaining in operation, Cavel International, filed an emergency motion for stay pending appeal, which eventually won on May 5, allowing it to stay open while an appeal was filed. However, on May 24, the Illinois Governor signed into law state bill H.B. 1171 outlawing horse slaughter in the State, becoming Public Law 95-0002. Cavel International immediately sued the State of Illinois in Federal Court and, although the District Court refused Cavel’s petition to stay open on July, it managed to stay open until September 21, when the 7th Circuit US Court of Appeals upheld the Illinois state ban and dismissed Cavel’s claims for unconstitutionality, forcing it to close for good. Nonetheless, Velda’s President Luc Van Damme kept an ace under his sleeve since, by the time the Court of Appeals ruled against Cavel, he already had a backup plant in Canada ready to keep killing horses for him, the infamous Natural Valley Farms, Inc.

The following years, now that the horse-killing interests fell back to Canada and Mexico, the situation remained unchanged at federal level. During the 110th Congress, the AHSPA was quickly reintroduced in January 2007 by Reps. Janine Schakowsky (D-IL) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY) with a Senate companion bill by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and John Ensign (R-NV); however it was soon blocked by the House Agriculture Committee and, later on November that year, its Senate version stalled by a new “secret hold” carried out by at least three unidentified Senators. It was evident the pro-slaughter lobby not only would stop this legislation by all means possible, no matter how dirty, illegal or underhanded they were, but also that the whole system, starting by the very same government, was definitely against horses.

Aware of such a dramatic situation, a new approach was attempted in July 2008, nearing the end of the 110th Congress, by concerned US Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) with the introduction of the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2008, PECA for short. This bill was a new version of the AHSPA that aimed at banning horse slaughter operations (including the exportation of horses for slaughter abroad) by criminalizing them under a different title and chapter of the US Code (18 USC §41-49, banning practices such as hunting in wildlife refuges or creating animal torture films for amusement) than the one traditionally used in the AHSPA (the Horse Protection Act, which currently bans soring) with the intent of preventing it from falling in the hands of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, where it would blocked. The bill was soon considered and reported favorably to the full House by the Judiciary Committee in September but, making use of their procedural rule, the horse killing lobby managed to get it referred back to the Agriculture Committee. Although initially the bill had obligatorily to be reported by Agriculture the next day (hence preventing them from holding it hostage again) but, using their powerful influence in other areas such as appropriations ‚Äìread money-, Goodlatte and his cronies were granted subsequent time extensions to “considerate” the bill until the 110th Congress adjourned, hence making impossible for the bill to be ever voted on just in the House. In March 2009, right after the 111th Congress started, Rep. Conyers introduced again the PECA (now Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2009) but this time it never made it out of the Judiciary Committee, since Congress was sidetracked by the subprime crisis and other “critical” issues, of which horses were not considered to be part of. Wall Street ran over horses and the PECA died of neglect when the 111th Congress adjourned in December 2010.

Other federal bills, aimed at reversing the 2004 legalization of wild horse slaughter (the infamous “Burns Amendment”) or at relieving the condition of slaughter-bound horses, were also introduced since 2005 and, although some were passed by the House of Representatives, they eventually failed to be enacted by being blocked in Senate Committees, controlled by agribusiness, welfare-ranching and mining interests currently making use of public lands at bargain rates or even receiving subventions for doing so:

In 2005, Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) introduced H.R. 297, which would have restored the 41-old ban on wild horse slaughter set by the 1971 Wild, Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, that former Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) gutted in late 2004 by means of an illegal amendment he secretly introduced in a budget bill during a conference committee, on behalf of several agribusiness and welfare ranchers, to allow wild horses in BLM holding facilities to be sold at open auctions and decriminalizing its sale for slaughter, and therefore make room for more wild horses to be removed from the range. Unfortunately neither this bill, nor its Senate version (S. 576) ever made it out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It was again introduced during the 110th Congress and, this time, it was successfully voted and passed by the House but, eventually, was blocked by the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. Whitfield tried again during the 111th Congress when he introduced on February 2009 the Restore Our American Mustangs Act (ROAM). The ROAM Act was again surprisingly passed by the House of Representatives on July 17th but was nevertheless blocked again in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where it died in December 2010.

On January 2009, the then US Rep. Mark Kirk (D-IL) introduced the Horse Transportation Safety Act of 2009, which would have banned the use of double deck trailer for all horse transport. Currently killer buyers keep using double deck trailers despite USDA regulations presumably in place alleging they are not traveling to a slaughter plant but to an intermediate, “assembly points”, such as feedlots or more auction yards, hence theoretically allowing them to keep using these conveyances for transporting horses for slaughter. This measure was eventually reported (passed) by the House Transportation Committee and placed on a House calendar in late September 2010 but was never called on during the post-election “lame duck” session and died when the 111th Congress adjourned in December. During the 112th Congress the sponsor of this measure (now US Senator) reintroduced it on June 2011 with the name of Horse Transportation Safety Act of 2011, after which it was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, where it still awaits action. In response to such event, Rep. John Mica (R-FL) recovered its language last January and attached it as part of the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012, a transportation infrastructure reform package, expected to be considered by Congress during the first and second quarters of 2012. However the pro-slaughter lobby is expected to either offer amendments to remove or neutralize this language or erase it altogether during the bill’s final reconciliation process (conference committee). An authoritative version of this language was also introduced in the Senate by the now Senator Kirk on June 27, 2011.

Despite the intense legislative efforts described above it seems since 2006 no major legislative action, aside from the introduction of bills, has been undertaken by Congress to end once and for all this needless destruction of our equine companions, driveling incessantly on more important issues like relief for troubled assets, making pizza a vegetable, the GOP nomination and, outstandingly, distributing the biggest piece of the pie to the special interests enabling their reelection (or unseating their rivals for that purpose) and that make the world go round. In fact, since the passage of now-defunct 2005 appropriations legislation removing funds for mandatory USDA inspections, Congress has done little or nothing on the issue, creating due to their inaction a situation in which the agony and suffering of horses falling in the slaughter system is simply prolonged.

The latest attempt to end horse slaughter took place last June 9 2011, when Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) reintroduced a new version of the AHSPA, now known as the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011, and with assigned bill number S. 1176. A House companion bill was later introduced on September 19 by Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), with assigned number H.R. 2966.

S. 1176 incorporates the same language of previous versions of the AHSPA, basically the same that has been sitting on the table since 2002, banning all necessary operations to slaughter horses for human consumption both in the US and abroad, that is, transporting, selling, transferring, receiving, possessing or donating horses and horse meat with the intent of slaughtering such horses for human consumption. This makes an US-based horse slaughtering plant unable to operate while at the same time making impossible for the killer buyers to ship horses to be killed in the Canadian and Mexican abattoirs since USDA would no longer issue the slaughter-bound horse health certificates (VS Form 10-13) currently required for these animals to be admitted in the Canadian and Mexican ports of entry, hence effectively shutting down the flow of US horses for kill in such countries. Even if killer buyers try to smuggle the horses under false pretenses, the passage of the AHSPA would make that quite difficult, unprofitable and overly risky since health certificates for purposes other than slaughter (such as those for breeding or temporary exportation in the scope of taking part in an event) are more expensive and difficult to obtain, usually requiring the killer buyer to draw tests on each individual horse.

Although the reintroduction of the AHSPA is a positive step, providing a small ray of hope for horses in the US, it is not actually the latest move on the subject thus far. Regrettably, last November 17, during the course of another appropriations bill “conference committee”, the fragile 2005 Ensign-Byrd language that prohibited USDA to fund mandatory FSIS ante mortem inspections at US horse slaughter plants (hence virtually preventing them from operating on US territory) was surreptitiously deleted by a small cabal comprised of three rental politicians on the payroll of corporate lobbyists and pro-slaughter think tanks living off the horse killing and agribusiness industries, thus theoretically opening the door for foreign-owned horse slaughter industry to set up shop again in the United States.

Despite the rest of Congress showed a strong support for keeping the Ensign-Byrd language in the FY2012 Agriculture Budget Bill (H.R. 2112, known as “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012”), materialized in the fact it survived several attempts by the pro-slaughter lobby to remove it, Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), underhandedly decided to strike down this language of the final version of the said bill during the course of its conference committee, a sort of special committee comprised of a few members of the House and Senate created to iron out language differences when both chambers pass different versions of a same bill, even though the Ensign-Byrd language wasn’t one of the differing points in the House and Senate versions of the agriculture appropriations bill and without any opportunity for the rest of Congress to openly debate and vote on the issue. Once again the history repeats itself: Big business, far-right think tanks and corporate lobbyists set the policy of the nation instead of the peoples that inhabit it. One more time Congress betrays horses and the American people.

Recently, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee reported the FY2012 House Agriculture Appropriations Bill which, this time, did not include the language removing funds for mandatory USDA inspection of horses bound for slaughter inserted since 2005. Hopefully, the language was inserted back before the bill was reported to the full House by means of an amendment introduced by Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA).

However this does not mean this legislation, which even if it doesn’t prevent horses from being shipped for slaughter across the border is helpful to prevent the reestablishment of new US-based horse slaughter plants, is safe. It can be stripped away by the Senate or simple eliminated during the course of a Conference Committee.

We at Habitat for Horses will keep monitoring the actions of Congress in this regard to make sure said language stays while fighting to get the AHSPA, the authoritative legislation to ban horse slaughter and prevent our horses from being shipped for slaughter abroad, swiftly passed before the 112th Congress adjourns. In this line, we invite you to please visit our page on the AHSPA to learn more about it and take appropriate action to ensure its passage.

Other actions at federal level worth mentioning include the introduction of S. 1281, the Horse Transportation Safety Act of 2011, a legislation to outlaw once and for all the use of double deck trailers to transport horses and the release last year of report 11-228 by Congress’ General Accounting Office acknowledging that the suffering of horses is prolonged by forcing the animals to travel for larger distances abroad under the same appalling conditions that were commonplace before the closure of the US-based plants and recommending instituting an explicit ban on horse slaughter.

Of such actions, it is worth highlighting the importance of the introduction of S. 1281. This bill, a reintroduction of the former H.R. 305 which failed to be voted on both chambers last Congress, is of critical importance to the stop the suffering of tens of thousands of horses that will be eventually shipped for slaughter before Congress enacts the AHSPA and USDA issues regulations enforcing border controls.

Even although there have been regulations in place since 2001 (9 CFR 88), and authoritative legislation since as far as 1996, banning the use of double deck trailers to ship horses for slaughter, last year USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) admitted in the aforementioned GAO report 11-228 that they have not enforced such regulations (alleging a lack of resources), giving the killer buyers a green light to continue the crimes and atrocities they have been perpetrating for years as usual. S. 1281 would put an end once and for all to this travesty by establishing an explicit and total ban on double tier trailers to transport horses with no legal holes the horse killers could use to skirt it. Therefore, it is very important that contact your two U.S. Senators requesting them to support this bill and force a vote on it.

Regarding past federal legislation on horse slaughter, as stated above, several different languages were introduced in the past ten years, with a few ones introduced to hinder efforts to ban horse slaughter or to impudently promote the slaughter of horses. Bills and amendments aimed at banning horse slaughter suffered many turns and reverses that eventually led to their defeat.

At state level, however, things have been not so quiet since the US-based horse slaughter plants closed down in 2007. Although a couple bills were introduced in different states to ban horse slaughter, no new pro-horse legislation in this regard was passed since Illinois enacted its ban in late May 2007, whereas a number of different measures have been introduced to either repeal such ban or to promote, so far unsuccessfully, the opening of new horse slaughter plants in other states.

The most relevant of such malicious legislations are the different bills introduced by Illinois State Representative Jim Sacia (R-Freeport), aimed at repealing the ban passed by the State Assembly in 2007, Montana’s infamous H.B. 418, protecting horse slaughter plants built in the state from legal action regarding their permits, and Wyoming’s H.B. 122, ordering the mandatory slaughter of stray and feral horses in the state for human consumption. Let’s review them.

Virtually every session of the Illinois General Assembly since the ban was passed, Mr. Sacia, moved by personal interests (he is deeply tied to AQHA and the Illinois Horsemen Council, both deeply pro-slaughter) and a profound hatred towards those opposed to his pro-kill view, has been trying to overturn this law in an effort to legalize the practice in the state hoping the Belgian horse-killing Velda NV would reopen the Cavel plant.

His last attempt took place on early 2011 when Mr. Sacia pushed to gain support for his H.B. 583 but eventually failed to get traction and pulled out from the session due to lack of such supports.

However, even if Mr. Sacia were successful in legalizing horse killing, Cavel would not open up since, to date, there are not official USDA vets available to carry out ante mortem inspections of horses arriving at the plant (and hence, even if the killing takes place, Cavel would not be able to export the meat for human consumption abroad) and the fee-for-inspection program hastily implemented by USDA in 2006 to allow the plants to operate in defiance of the mandate of Congress was declared illegal by the DC District Court.

Montana’s H.B. 418, now sadly part of the state code, marks a new chapter in the infamy of the horse slaughter industry and its network political parasites not because of its actual effects (which fortunately have been null, as will be set forth later) but for the brazenly insulting disregard for the principles of equity and impartiality the country’s rule of law is supposedly based of.

The brainchild of Rep. Ed Butcher (R-Winifred), this law, prevents courts and individuals alike to challenge the license or any other form of approval for operation of a horse slaughter plant in construction in state based on environmental concerns. It also requires the person or entity filing an action to secure a surety bond equal to the 20% of the total cost of building such a plant (an average of more than a million dollars for a plant of the size of Cavel Int.) in no more than 30 days so the case can be heard and, additionally, if the case if found to be without merit or interpreted by the court it was filed to delay or interfere with the building of such horse killing plant, it orders the plaintiff to pay for the defending costs and attorney fees of the multi-million horse slaughter corporation. In other words, to the eyes of the State of Montana, justice is directly proportional to wealth, that is, if you can pay (a million dollars) you can stay…

Shortly after its enactment in May 2009 Mr. Butcher claimed that investor groups, allegedly from China, were interested in building a plant in the state but, to date, there is not any horse slaughter plant in Montana nor plans to build any, thus confirming the actual lack of success expected from a piece of legal junk added unnecessarily to the books.

Wyoming’s H.B. 122, introduced by Rep. Sue Wallis alias “Slaughterhouse Sue” (R-Gillette), is another of the several state horse-killing measures that were successful to be enacted although eventually failed to achieve any actual success in bringing back horse slaughter to the US, reflecting the poor criteria and know-how of the lawmakers behind them.

H.B. 122 is remarkable not because of the impudent coziness found in Montana’s H.B. 418, nor because of the money-racking nature found in other measures passed in a couple of states (we will review that later), but because of the intense hatred towards horses, as an species, that emanates from its language.

H.B. 122 theoretically opens up the door for wild horse slaughter in the state, covering it up under a presumed “charity program” scheme intended to supply meat to state organizations. This bill, which was sadly signed into law on March 9 2010, institutes the immediate mandatory slaughter of stray and feral livestock, including horses, and directs the state to sell the meat at no costs to public institutions such as schools, prisons and colleges and for a profit to companies interested in buying it.

Before this legislation was enacted stray and feral livestock were held by 10 days by public officials and, if nobody claimed property, sold at the closest sale yard, regardless of public health concerns.

Under the phony argument that wild horses are actually strayed, feral cattle and that most horses slaughtered are of such a kind due to overpopulation, Sue Wallis is forcing any animal found without brands (including wild horses never rounded up or living in areas administered by USFWS, which does not brand) to be slaughtered and served up in public schools, prisons and the like for people to eat, as if her actual intention were, for some reason, to make people taste horse meat.

She allegedly intended to attract foreign horse meat corporations interested in buying the meat of animals killed this way for sale abroad. However, so far, as in Montana nobody shown any interest on the program; reducing this legislation to another useless piece of legal junk without any actual purpose.

Like in the Illinois or Montana case, Mrs. Wallis’ plan would never have any success, not only because without USDA mandatory ante mortem inspections it is not possible (it is actually illegal) to sell any kind of meat within the US or abroad for that purpose (the European Union requires an USDA export certificate to make the meat out of the customs and this is something state legislatures cannot override), but simply because no horse slaughter company is actually interested in such endeavors. Not only they are too from the closest international airport but actually the big-buck horse meat companies already spent millions setting up a solid infrastructure in Canada and Mexico, making thus unfeasible to invest money in a country where it is already not possible to operate unless a major pro-slaughter legislative undertaking takes place, requiring spending hundred of thousands of dollars in lobbyists and assorted stuff, especially now that credit is scarce. To put it simply, they’re out of touch with reality, fighting to open up imaginary horse slaughter plants and passing useless legislation lacking any common sense, like if the political message sent by such initiatives was actually more important that their actual purpose.

A possible explanation for this curious phenomenon may be that most of these new slaughter proponents are simply playing the political ball, using horse slaughter as a step stone for their political careers in conservative, agricultural states or simply as a money racking scheme in the form of fake charities, front-end organizations and political action committees.

Apparently, futilely trying to convince some European horse slaughter corporation (namely Velda N.V.) to set up shop in Montana and, after the Belgians blew him off, even claimed that a group of presumed “Chinese investors” were interested in building a horse slaughter plant. Shortly after the claim on the “Beijing connection” Mr. Butcher pulled his bid for reelection said some nonsense on nuclear power and several other legislation.

AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
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