NCBA Editorial: Horse Slaughter Ban Threatens Agriculture
WASHINGTON - I recently had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to testify on behalf of NCBA’s cattle producer-members on H.R. 503, The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. It is well-known that I am a great lover of horses. As I shared with the House Agriculture Committee, I regard horses not only as exceptional tools of the ranching trade and wonderful companions, but also as one of God’s great masterpieces.
So it does not surprise me that some folks are repulsed by the idea of processing horses for food. My goal is not to persuade anyone that horse processing is desirable, but it certainly should not be outlawed as an option for managing horses. That’s precisely the goal of H.R. 503, and it is a serious threat to animal agriculture as we know it.
When legislators are asked to ban horse processing based simply on the negative emotions it evokes in some people, we have started down a very slippery slope. I have all the confidence in the world that cattle are harvested in a humane, sanitary and defensible manner, because I’ve seen it personally. Horse processing faces all of the same scrutiny and inspections that other livestock slaughter plants do. The process is regulated by USDA under the Humane Slaughter Act. The overall thought of horses being processed for food is not appealing to me or to the general public. But the process is not illegal, nor is it inhumane.
Stories are told about horses being stolen, abused, and mistreated during transport to slaughter. But we already have laws against these practices that cover all horses, not just those destined for processing. We can deal with mistreatment of horses under laws already on the books, without passing a horse slaughter ban.
The processing of horses is just one of many different management options for them. Other options include adoption, rehabilitation, donation, and private purchase. I believe eliminating the processing of horses as a management option actually poses a risk to horse welfare. At the hearing, the Ag Committee heard witnesses – including horse welfare and veterinary experts – discuss the options for handling as many as 90,000 unwanted or abandoned horses that will have to be cared for. They discussed the costs related to this care, the unintended mistreatment of these animals in non-regulated rescue facilities, and the environmental concerns of disposing of horse carcasses. The committee feels, and cattlemen agree, that HR 503 fails to address any of these issues.
But the most compelling reason for cattlemen to oppose H.R. 503 is that it sets a drastic and dangerous precedent for regulating animal agriculture. The bill basically says that you can follow all regulations to the letter in terms of humane treatment, transport, and processing, but we’re still going to ban horse slaughter simply because some people find the practice disturbing. If we allow that to happen, what’s next? If we let our likes and dislikes determine animals’ eligibility for slaughter, production agriculture is in really big trouble.
While this may all seem like common sense to cattlemen, I can tell you that’s not the case for the folks on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress are being bombarded by those who want horse slaughter banned. So far, 203 members of the House have signed onto the bill as co-sponsors, and it only takes 218 representatives to guarantee passage in the House. The cattle industry needs your help as we approach a crucial September vote on this bill. So this is a great time to contact your representatives and let them know that H.R. 503 is a huge threat to your livelihood, and that we can’t let the emotions of a few drive our nation’s agricultural policy.
If there’s one thing my visit to D.C. really drove home, it’s that this is a very tough vote for members of Congress. They know the impact on agriculture is mostly long-term, while the ire of the bill’s proponents will be hostile and immediate. So if cattlemen get complacent on this issue, it’s going to be too easy for Congressmen to let emotion carry the day when they cast their votes. Make it a point today get to a town hall meeting, make a phone call, or send a letter or e-mail to your Congressman asking for a “No” vote on H.R. 503.
Paxton Ramsey is a rancher and horseman from Devers, Texas. He is a member of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assocition and the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, and was elected by his peers as chairman of the 2006 Young Cattlemen’s Conference.