Ban on transporting horses for slaughter tucked in infrastructure bill
The U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass the Horse Transportation Safety Act (HTSA) as part of a massive infrastructure bill, the INVEST in America Act.
INVEST is being touted by President Biden as a $550 billion dollar, “once-in-a-generation investment in our infrastructure.” The federal funds would be directed towards highways, transit, water, energy and other types of public works. The bill also continues other infrastructure funding, bringing the package’s total cost to about $1 trillion, according to reports. The bill is set up, according to the White House, to create good-paying union jobs, tackle the climate crisis, and grow the economy “sustainably and equitably for decades to come.”
However, on July 1st, the Animal Welfare Institution put out a press release touting what they called three major wins for horses in America, including HTSA and Carter-Fitzpatrick Amendment, tucked in the 2,702 page INVEST Act.
HTSA would ban the use of double-deck trailers to haul horses in interstate commerce and ban the transport of equines across state lines for the purpose of slaughter.
In July of 2020, HTSA passed in the U.S. House of Representatives as part of a larger federal transportation package, but the Senate did not vote on the legislation. It was reintroduced Feb. 8 by Congress members Steve Cohen, D Tenn., Dina Titus, D Nev., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., with the support of an additional 103 cosponsors.
The double-deck trailer topic originally came up in 2008, with AWI leading the charge, calling the double-deck trailers unsafe to both animals and motorists on state, federal and local roadways. According to AWI, the push for the bill followed a 2007 incident in which a double-deck trailer carrying 59 Belgian draft horses overturned in Wadsworth, Ill. Nineteen of the animals were killed.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture banned the use of double-deck trailers to transport equines to slaughter, effective Oct. 7, 2011, citing concerns that such vehicles prove “extremely top-heavy and prone to tipping.”
The trailers are still used, safely, for some horse transportation, including rodeo stock.
“We use both double deck and single deck trailers to haul horses and rodeo bulls,” said JD Hamaker, with Sutton Rodeo.
Hamaker points out that there is always some risk transporting any animals, no matter what the mode of transportation is.
“Our bucking horses are our most valued and respected possessions and if we don’t care for them in a professional and compassionate manner, we are out of the business shortly,” Hamaker said. “These animals are worth from $5,000 to $100,000 each. If I was to be reincarnated as anything I would wish to come back as a bucking horse as they have the most pampered under worked life-style you can imagine, as they only get used approximately eight-15 days a year for 8 seconds at a time.”
Mistreating the horses, or any of their animals is just not acceptable, Hamaker says.
“As far as double deck trailers we do use them,” Hamaker said. “But only the ones that are configured to have adequate clearances as to accommodate horses’ safety. In 25 years of hauling rodeo livestock I’ve never had an injured animal due to use of a doubled trailer.”
The right trailers, used properly are safe, whether they are double-deck of single-deck, according to Hamaker.
The House also passed the Carter-Fitzpatrick Amendment in the INVEST in America Act, which would ban the transport of equines across state lines for the purpose of slaughter, ending the slaughter of American horses for human consumption if enacted into law.
American horses have not been slaughtered for human consumption in the United States since 2007 when the last horse processing plant closed following public opposition and a federal restriction on funding. However, horses are now transported to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico.
Led by seven democrats and six republicans, the Amendment is supported by animal welfare groups, including the The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, and Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation.
“This important bipartisan amendment stops equines from being slaughtered for human consumption,” said amendment sponsor Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, P-Pa. “Horses deserve better and we must lend a voice to the voiceless to help end the practice of American horses being needlessly slaughtered.”
“Nevada is home to the largest population of wild horses in the nation,” said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev. “Today we took a crucial step to shut down the horse slaughter pipeline permanently. The American people do not support the wholesale killing of these beautiful animals and I am proud that our persistent efforts have gotten us to this moment.”
According to reports, the number of horses shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter has dropped. Last year, approximately 35,000 horses were exported, down from 166,000 in 2012.
The question remains, despite slaughter being down, what happens to all the horses that are either past their prime, unwanted, unmanageable, etc.?
“If they are successful on getting slaughter shut down, it will be the most inhumane thing that ever happened to horses, period,” Hamaker said. “All disciplines of the equine industries produce a certain amount of animals that ether don’t work because of physical issues or the level of their abilities and those horse are the ones that will be found abandoned and starving on private and public lands, as people will find themselves with unneeded, unusable, and unmarketable horses that they can’t afford to feed.”
However, in 2017, ASPCA claims research found that 2.3 million Americans (https://www.aspcapro.org/encouraging-research-regarding-homes-horses) have the desire and resources to adopt a horse.
“Exciting newly-published research by the ASPCA suggests there could be at least 1.2 million households — or approximately 2.3 million adults — in the United States with both the resources and desire to adopt horses in need. This discovery indicates that there is a population ready to absorb horses most at risk,” ASPCA claims.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management is planning emergency roundups, due to drought conditions across most of the West.
The BLM estimates more than 6,000 additional wild horses and burros should be gathered from public lands by the end of September through emergency actions, which can be taken in response to lack of water or forage, or due to impacts from wildfire or disease. Already this year, nearly 1,200 animals have been gathered through emergency actions.
The estimated wild horse and burro population on BLM-managed public lands decreased for the first time since 2012 last year, from a record of approximately 95,000 animals to 86,000 animals as of March 1, 2021. The estimated population still remains more than three times what is sustainable and healthy for the land and the animals.
The legislation hit the Senate floor Aug. 2, and will likely face an uphill battle to pass; the Senate is currently voting on amendments. Only two House Republicans joined the Democratic majority to pass the INVEST Act.
Another piece of legislation floating around in the White House, dubbed by some as a win for wild mustangs, is a fertility control measure.
The House Appropriations committee advanced language that would require the Bureau of Land Management to implement an immunocontraceptive fertility control program to manage wild horses and burros and evaluate other on-range management options, including relocating horses to less populated Herd Management Areas.
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