The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity. -George Bernard Shaw

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Whitfield Becomes Hero for Horses

BONNIE ERBE: Riding to the rescue of horses

Scripps Howard News Service
Monday, June 20th, 2005 01:14 PM (PDT)

(SH) - Ours is an era of hero deprivation. From Paris Hilton, an over-bleached, over-exposed maven of materialism and a cultural icon, to politicos who manipulate intelligence to reach pre-selected conclusions, there are few principled, admirable figures among us.

I, however, recently met one. He's a man willing to take on moneyed interests. That's a rare commodity in Congress these days. He battles members of his own party. Among lockstep Republicans, that is an even rarer commodity. He is Kentucky Republican Edward Whitfield, and he's among the best friends equines and equestrians have in national politics today.

With Reps. John Spratt, D-S.C., John Sweeney, R-N.Y., and Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., Whitfield shepherded through the House an amendment to an agricultural bill that would prevent the horrifying slaughter of thousands of American horses each year. The amendment was approved with overwhelming support earlier this month, although its chances of making it through a House-Senate conference committee are between slim and nil.

It's hard to believe in this supposedly enlightened era that we still slaughter some 65,000 horses in the United States and ship many thousands more to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico each year. Three slaughter plants continue to operate in the United States - two in Texas and one in Illinois.

The American public overwhelmingly opposes horse slaughter. We see horses as pets, as companions, as athletes and as family, not as food. The American horses slaughtered here and abroad are shipped primarily to France and Belgium for human consumption. How vile.

Whitfield says the primary proponents of horse slaughter are cattlemen, the three remaining U.S. slaughterhouses, the American Equine Veterinarian Practitioners (or AEVP, a group of equine vets who do not represent the whole industry) and the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA.) The two latter groups claim to support horse slaughter as a human alternative to mistreatment of horses, but in reality view horses as moneymaking machines, both in life and in death.

The reasons these groups oppose efforts to ban slaughter vary. For the cattlemen, Whitfield says they fear that if horse slaughtering is banned, cattle slaughter will be next. They also, he says, receive $3 per horse slaughtered from the Texas slaughterhouses. For the slaughterhouses, the motivation is obvious. Horse slaughter is an approximate $300 million annual business. But that sum is tiny when compared with the more than $25 billion each year the American horse contributes to the gross domestic product.

The AEVP and the AQHA claim horse slaughter is more humane than the alternative. It's not funny, but it is laughable. They say many horses are starved and abused, and slaughter is a more humane alternative.

Do you call this "humane"? Horses are prodded into death chambers using electric shocks. They sweat in fear and wince in pain in their last moments. Bolts of metal are shot into their skulls by inexperienced, low-paid workers who frequently have to try two or three times before "stunning" the horses into shock, whereupon they slit the horses' throats and watch these creatures die in a puddle of their own blood.

But forget that horrific process for the moment. The AEVP and AQHA say that without slaughter, there would be an oversupply of horses subject to abuse or neglect. Their duplicity on this is more stunning than the "death bolt." Horse abuse and neglect actually goes down as rates of slaughter drop. It rises in tandem with higher rates of slaughter.

Just a few years ago, 300,000 horses were slaughtered in the United States.

Rates of abuse and neglect (and theft) were much higher. California banned horse slaughter in 1998 and has seen rates of abuse drop precipitously since. Slaughter breeds, not reduces, abuse, neglect and theft of horses.

Whitfield says since his amendment is likely to die in conference, the only sure way to protect America's horses is by passage of HR 503-a stand-alone ban. But the moneyed interests, and their friends in Congress (most notably Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont.) are building mountains of opposition.

It's time to teach the anti-heroes that this era of hero deprivation is about to end.


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