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Legislative Update

Update of Federal and State Legislation Regarding Unwanted Horses and Horse Processing
by Cindy Schonholtz, President, Animal Welfare Council

I often get asked what is happening relating the processing of horses for human consumption and the unwanted horse in the United States. There is no doubt that the issue of unwanted horses in the U.S. continues to be a hot button issue for the horse industry and solutions are still being formulated. Following is a summary of what has happened recently regarding these issues federally and in various states.

Federal Issues Ban on the processing of horses for human consumption.

House Bill 503, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, and Senate Bill 727 introduced by Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, are the federal bills introduced that would prohibit the engaging in selling, trading or any other action that would lead to the human consumption of horses. In addition to banning the processing in the United States it would also make it illegal to transport a horse to Canada or Mexico for processing for human consumption. The house bill has been assigned to the House Committee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security; there has not been a hearing in this committee this year on the bill. The House Ag Committee is planning on holding a hearing on April 27th; this should be more of an informational hearing. The Senate has not heard the bill in committee to date.

The question remains: Who will tend to the additional 100,000 unwanted horses currently being shipped to Canada and Mexico for processing if these bills are passed? In a survey conducted by the Animal Welfare Council in 2009 of 94 government supported animal control centers, 53% of respondents acknowledged there are no horse rescue facilities in their area and 83% of respondents cannot house or care for any horses. Animal activist proponents of the legislation do not have a viable plan for caring for the nation's unwanted horses.

GAO Study on the Closure of the Plants in the U.S.

The Government Accounting Office is conducting a study on the effect of the closure of the U.S. processing plants on the horse industry and to some extent, the welfare of U.S. Horses. Originally this study was supposed to be completed in March 2010 but due to the complexity of the issue, they realize they will not be able to finish this until the end of the year. The horse industry has submitted extensive information to the GAO on the subject.

State Issues

States are currently dealing with the unwanted horse issue in different ways, most of the legislative action pertains to the processing of horses issue. Since the plants in the United States closed in 2007, states have struggled with how to handle unwanted horses and if the fact that these plants have closed have contributed to the uptick in abuse and neglect. Processing horses for human consumption is still legal in all states except California, Illinois, and Texas, which passed state laws banning it. Though it is still technically legal in most states, it is practically unfeasible. This is because for the past several years, Congress has put a rider on appropriations measures that prohibit the use of funds or user fees for inspection of horse meat meant for human consumption. With no USDA inspection, no horse meat can be sold over state lines, unless it is for the zoo meat market.

The South Dakota Legislature has passed a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to reinstate horse processing. They are also calling on the USDA to reinstate and fully fund the horse meat inspection program, while also urging Congress to defeat the current Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, including H.R. 503 and S. 727 and related legislation.

In Kentucky, the legislation (HB 398) passed is not related to processing but disposition of unwanted horses in that state. A bill to form the Kentucky Equine Health and Welfare Council and create regional centers to care for unwanted horses has passed both houses and has been sent to Governor Bashear for consideration. Another bill has been sent to the Governor that would shorten the statutory wait time for adopting horses that have been confiscated by law enforcement authorities. This bill would reduce the waiting time from one year to three months.

In Wyoming, a bill (HB 122) to circumvent the funding problems with USDA inspection of horse meat has passed and has been signed into law by Governor Dave Freudenthal . This law authorizes the slaughter of unclaimed horses by state inspected facilities. It provides the Wyoming Livestock Board with three options to deal with abandoned, stray, feral or abused animals which enter into their jurisdiction. The Board may take the animal to public sale (this was the only option previous to this law) or send the animal to slaughter or euthanize the animal. Horses slaughtered in Wyoming would have to be inspected by state inspectors and may be used for human consumption only in Wyoming, but the horsemeat could be exported to other states to feed zoo animals. Parties involved with shaping the legislation also aim to develop a model for the humane processing of horses that will make the practice more widely acceptable to the public.

The Missouri house has passed a bill (HB 1747) that also addresses federal funding restrictions for USDA inspectors to work in horse processing facilities. This bill would impose fees on the processors in order to pay inspectors.

In Tennessee, a legislative subcommittee just approved a bill (HB 1428) that would allow the state to establish horse slaughter and processing plants. The bill directs the Tennessee Department of Agriculture to establish licensing, inspection, operational regulations, and fees for horse processing plants in the state. The bill also provides protections for those who might open a plant in Tennessee; these protections are similar to those included in a bill passed in Montana in 2009.

The Idaho House joined with the Senate in that state to pass a Memorial that states in part. "Congress is urged to oppose federal legislation that interferes with a state's ability to direct the transport and processing of horses and is encouraged to discontinue language in the yearly appropriation bills which has effectively ended processing of horses in the United States..."

On the flip side of the issue, Florida has two bills (SB 1708 & HB 765) in their state legislature that would make it a felony to slaughter horses and sell their meat for human consumption. This follows a rash of horse thefts which resulted in the slaughter of the horses and sale of the meat on the black market in Florida.

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