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Livestock

States consider, pass resolutions in support of horse slaughter

Written by Christy Hemken
While Congress considers a bill that would restrict the transport of horses for slaughter there’s been a flurry of activity in 2009 state legislatures around the country in support of the reestablishment of equine processing plants in the U.S.
    The Conyers-Burton Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act (HR 503) would impose a nationwide ban on the transport of horses for slaughter. Many states have passed or are considering bills and resolutions that oppose the restriction of a state’s rights to determine equine transport and processing.
    According to USDA statistics, in 2007, when state-imposed bans closed the last three U.S. horse slaughterhouses, a record 78,000 horses were exported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter.
    Nearly two years after banning the slaughter of horses for human consumption, Illinois lawmakers Feb. 24 revived the issue, saying the fate of unwanted horses is now even more uncertain, according to local newspapers. On an 11-2 vote the Illinois House Agriculture Committee approved legislation to overturn the ban, which was aimed at shutting down the nation’s only remaining horse slaughter plant in DeKalb, Ill.
    In Montana a bill that would not only allow but also encourage horse-slaughter facilities has drawn a lot of attention, most recently at a March 12 Senate hearing. Republican Representative Ed Butcher is sponsoring HB 418, which he led through the Montana House, where it passed 66-33, and through the Senate Agriculture Committee, where it passed 7-2.
    “This bill is really providing a humane and regulated processing plant,” says Butcher, a horse owner from the central Montana farm community of Winifred. “Demand is there. We want a humane way to address the problem.”
    Bill Parker of the Billings Livestock Commission testified at the hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee. He says environmental issues that were raised would be a concern with any type of packing plant, whether it processes horses, cattle or hogs. “I think those issues can be very easily addressed,” he says.
    The bill describes itself as “an act authorizing investor-owned equine slaughter or processing facilities; prohibiting a court from granting an injunction to stop or delay the construction of an equine slaughter or processing facility based on legal challenges or appeal of a permit, license, certificate or other approval issued in conjunction with environmental laws.”
    “What we’re trying to do is lay the groundwork to legalize horse processing in Montana,” says Parker. “We want to make it possible to open and run a plant, and also make it very hard for the Humane Society or PETA or any animal rights activists to bring an injunction to close it down if we do, in fact, open one.”
    Opponents argued that a horse slaughterhouse should not be granted special exemptions from environmental and other laws, and should be treated like any factory.
    Butcher said slaughtering domestically makes more sense than sending U.S. horses to Canada or Mexico, and the work can be done swiftly, without pain to the animal.
    Illinois’ measure faces an uncertain fate as it moves through the legislative process, since the Senate sponsor of the 2007 legislation has since become Illinois Senate president. Illinois Rep. Jim Sacia, who is sponsoring the repeal, said the lack of a market for unwanted horses has led people to either let the animals starve, turn them loose or ship them to foreign countries where their treatment might be less humane than at the plant in DeKalb.
    Parker says in Montana’s Senate hearing there were several emotional issues brought up. “Those people have no idea what 100,000 horses look like,” says Parker of the nation’s excess horses. “There are very few people in the U.S. who know what 1,500 head of horses looks like, let alone 100,000 horses.
    “They have no plan in place as to what they’re going to do with those animals,” he continues. “It all sounds good when you can take them to horse sanctuaries and adopt them out, but that’s not reality. It’s not reality to take care of 100,000 unwanted horses.”
    The Wyoming Legislature passed HJ8, which states, “state agriculture and rural leaders recognize the necessity and benefit of a state’s ability to direct the transport and processing of horses.” The resolution, which passed 25-5, goes on to urge Congress to oppose federal legislation that “interferes with a state’s ability to direct the transport or processing of horses.” The statement gained Governor Freudenthal’s signature March 3.
    “What we’re trying to do is send a real strong message to the U.S. government that we need to be able to operate a plant and that there’s a need for a plant in the United States and that they need to take a good strong look at this,” says Parker.
    “This bill has been carried in large margins despite a tremendous amount of money and effort from animal rights groups to block it,” says Butcher. “That speaks for the problem itself.”
    The Montana bill may have made it this far, but it still faces several steps through the Senate floor, then on to Governor Schweitzer for his signature.
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..