Equine transport at risk through H.R. 6598Written by Christy Hemken
By a voice vote, the House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 6598, the “Prevention of Equine Cruelty” Act on Sept. 23. Several Republican amendments to change the bill, which is strongly opposed by many horse and livestock organizations, failed.
H.R. 6598 is the “Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act,” and was introduced by House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and was co-sponsored by Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN). According to the American Quarter Horse Association, if enacted into law this bill would make it a federal crime to buy, sell, own or transport a horse, alive or dead, with the intent to use it for human consumption. The crime would be punishable with a fine and up to three years in prison.
Although the bill was pulled from the House Judiciary Committee mid-September due to lack of support, it was slated to return to the Committee a week later.
“If they get it back before the Committee and pass the bill it won’t be good for anybody,” says Joe Vodicka of Central Wyoming Livestock in Glenrock. “It’ll stop all of the slaughter horses from being sold, and they’re cheap enough as it is.”
Vodicka says currently 50 to 75 head of horses are sold for slaughter each month through the Glenrock auction. He says right now buyers won’t take any horse with an old injury to an eye or a fresh scrape or cut, for example, because of the potential fine.
“You can’t haul a horse any better than how these guys are hauling them,” says Vodicka, noting that trucking the horses 400 miles to the now-closed plant in North Platte, Neb. was a whole lot more humane than hauling them 1,000 miles to Canada.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association sent a letter to House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and ranking member Lamar Smith in mid-September detailing the legislation’s flaws, saying, “This bill is the most recent attempt to eliminate a humane animal management option by banning the processing of horses for reasons other than safety or public health. The legislation was introduced to protect horse welfare, but the provisions of this bill will do more to harm horses than it will to protect them.”
Since state laws have banned horse processing, the number of abandoned, neglected, and starving horses has drastically increased. Additionally, the bill would severely limit the rights of owners to manage their private property and subject horse owners to criminal prosecution should they sell their horses for processing.
Vodicka says the most inconvenience will probably go to those hauling rough stock for rodeos, because they’re hauled in a way similar to that used by horse traders. AQHA says that, as written, the bill opens the possibility for a horse owner to get pulled over any time he trailers his horse anywhere and prove he is not taking it to slaughter.
Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) Law Enforcement Administrator Jim Siler says if the law passes the job of stopping horse trailers going down the highway would be appointed to either states or the federal government.
“Some states don’t require any brand inspections, so they’re hauling horses with no proof of ownership and this law would definitely change things,” says Siler. He says if he were to stop somebody and ask where the horses were going he’d want to check some sort of permanent identification.
Bill Parker of the Billings Livestock Commission says he doesn’t think the law would cause any extra paperwork for the everyday horse owner trailering their horses.
Related to the horse slaughter debate, Siler says the WLSB has collected more stray horses this year than in the past. Parker says sales are holding steady in Billings, both because the barn is close to the Canadian border and because it works hard to maintain a good market.
While the bill could go to the House floor for a vote, the Livestock Marketing Association says it’s unlikely the leadership will want to spend time on the bill in the last week of this Congress. Nevertheless, LMA and other opponents of the measure will be keeping a close eye on any new developments on this bill.
Those in the horse industry are encouraged to contact members of the House Judiciary Committee and their Congressmen to make their opposition to H.R. 6598 known.