Sweeney & Whitfield Continue to Be Active Sponsors
Bill Would Keep U.S. Horses Off Dinner Plates By Joe Rominiecki
"The fight to end the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the United States has been given new life this year, three U.S. Representatives announced Wednesday.
Washington, D.C. - Scripps Howard Foundation Wire - infoZine - Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky.; John Sweeney, R-N.Y.; and Nick Rahall, D-W.V., are the leading sponsors of two bills, one that would outlaw horse slaughter for human consumption in the United States and one that would reverse the Bureau of Land Management's new authority to auction wild horses.
Americans do not customarily eat horse meat, but it is a delicacy in other countries, such as France, Belgium, Italy, Japan, Netherlands and Germany. Three foreign-owned slaughterhouses operate in the United States - two in Texas and one in Illinois.
U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show that more than 66,000 horses were slaughtered for their meat in the United States in 2004.
'We're not trying to change the culture of France or Belgium. We just don't want them to be slaughtering OUR horses for their consumption. They've never been a part of our food chain in America,' Whitfield said.
All three congressmen cited an overwhelming degree of support from the public, and Sweeney said the anti-slaughter bill had 63 House co-sponsors as of Wednesday morning.
Congress has seen similar bills in past years, but they have been blocked in the Committee on Agriculture, Whitfield said. The sponsors have taken a new strategy this year, sending the anti-slaughter bill to the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the bill against the sale of wild horses to the Committee on Resources. Sweeney said he has been promised a committee vote on the anti-slaughter bill.
'This is the last time I'm going to come up and do one of these, because we're passing this bill this year,' Sweeney said at the press conference.
Horse slaughterhouses can buy horses in the United States from any source, but the government was not among those sources until December, when Rep. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., slipped a line into the 3,000-page omnibus spending bill that President Bush signed in December.
That rider, which many members in Congress weren't aware of when they voted, gave the Bureau of Land Management authority to auction wild horses that have been pulled off land in western states for population control. This had been illegal since 1971.
Horses under the bureau's watch must be either 10 years old or have been offered for adoption three times without being taken. Approximately 8,400 horses meet these requirements, according to the bureau, although it still looks for buyers who will care for the horses.
However, the law allows the bureau to 'turn a blind eye to who buys the horses, said Nancy Perry, vice president for government affairs for the Humane Society of the United States. She also contested the notion of overpopulation.
Congress called the American wild horse population 'fast disappearing' in 1974, when it was estimated at 60,000, Perry said. The bureau's latest estimate is 37,000.
However, that number is 9,000 more than the level at which the bureau estimates the population can exist in balance with other uses of public rangeland.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., is working on an anti-horse slaughter bill in the Senate, but he said he is not as confident of success as House members.
'It's going to be tough to pass, I won't kid you, because there's not consensus on it,' he said. 'With a bill like that, you're not going to be able get floor time. So all you have to do is have one senator object.'
A long list of animal-interest organizations supports the two House bills, but the American Quarter Horse Association opposes them, viewing horse slaughter as a necessary option, Sweeney said.