On Tuesday, the Committee on Energy and Commerce heard testimony on H.R. 503, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. According to Blood-Horse, it was standing room only, which seems to indicate that there's some passion surrounding the topic.
Support for the bill came from Dr. Patricia Hogan, who operated on both Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex; Russell Williams, vice chairman of the American Horse Council, and T. Boone Pickens, who had this to say:
"These three foreign-owned plants slaughtered nearly 100,000 American horses in 2005," Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens said in testimony. "This is a black eye on our state and nation that demands action." (Thoroughbred Times )Pickens is married to Thoroughbred owner and breeder Madeleine Paulson. Two of the three U.S. slaughterhouses are located in Texas.
Not surprisingly, America's current favorite horse was mentioned:
"Can we imagine Barbaro being sent to slaughter if he can't recover? Why should other horses be different?" asked Williams (or possibly, Dr. Hogan; the articles disagree on the source.)
Opponents point to concerns about humane care for the horses, an increase in abuse of unwanted horses, and the government's right to regulate private property. Dick Koehler, the vice president of the Beltex slaughterhouse, said, "It is a matter of choice. If you wish to do that with your horse, I believe you should have the choice to do that."
That sounds pretty cold to me. Possibly because I've been reading about how the horses are slaughtered. The written testimony of Christopher Heyde, Deputy Legislative Director with the Society for Animal Protective Legislation is online at the Society's website. It includes an alarming description of his visit to a slaughterhouse.
Likewise, the FAQ at Animal Welfare Institute website counters the claim that the current method of slaughter is humane:
Opponents of the AHSPA portray horse slaughter as a form of humane euthanasia, citing the American Veterinary Medical Association's classification of the captive-bolt as acceptable for euthanizing equines. This simplistic presentation of the facts fails to acknowledge the vast difference between efficient administration of the captive-bolt by a highly trained veterinarian with appropriate restraint of the horse’s head (the AVMA specifies that the captive-bolt is acceptable “with appropriate restraint”) and its improper use by low-skilled slaughterhouse employees without proper head restraint. Improper use of the captive-bolt during slaughter means that horses may often endure repeated blows with the device, and may be improperly stunned as they proceed through slaughter.Somewhat more emotional arguments against the practice appear on the organization's homepage.
The Animal Welfare Council (not the above mentioned Animal Welfare Institute) released a study in June entitled Report: The Unintended Consequences of a Ban on the Humane Slaughter (Processing) of Horses in the United States [free registration required]. I haven't had time to read it yet (heck, I haven't had time to register to read it yet), so I can't summarize, but The Horse reports that the Humane Society finds the report "junk masquerading as science".
If you're looking for more background, you might want to pick up After the Finish Line by Bill Heller. Published in 2005, it's another one of the many books my library doesn't own, so I haven't seen it; however, I'm guessing the subtitle, "The Race to End Horse Slaughter in America," probably says it all.
I have been able to listen to the hearing; it's available online at the Committee 's website I'm still on the introductory remarks, where I learned from Rep. John Sweeney, one of the bill's sponsors, that Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand was not only slaughtered overseas, but his meat was advertised with the tagline, "Eat an American champion."
That sort of stuff gives me the chills -- and makes me glad that the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance makes an annual donation to Old Friends.