Posted on Fri, Sep. 08, 2006
WASHINGTON - The House brushed aside objections from horse doctors and the White House and voted Thursday to outlaw the slaughter of horses for meat.
Critics of the practice made an emotional appeal, showing photographs of horses with bloodied and lacerated faces, the result of being crammed into trailers destined for slaughterhouses.
Celebrities also turned up the pressure: Actress Bo Derek was on hand for Thursday's 263-146 vote, and country singer Willie Nelson and oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens have been campaigning against horse slaughter.
Lawmakers thought they had ended the practice with a vote last year. But instead of banning it outright, Congress yanked the salaries and expenses of federal inspectors. In response, the Bush administration simply started charging plants for inspections, and the slaughter continued.
''It is one of the most inhumane, brutal, shady practices going on in the U.S. today,'' said Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., a sponsor of the ban.
Sweeney argued that the slaughter of horses is different because horses, such as Mr. Ed, Secretariat and Silver, are American icons.
''They're as close to human as any animal you can get,'' said Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C.
Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., added: ``The way a society treats its animals, particularly horses, speaks to the core values and morals of its citizens.''
The bill's future is uncertain. The Senate has not acted on a similar bill, and Congress intends to finish its session by the end of the month.
The administration contends a ban would do more harm than good for horses.
''We have serious concerns that the welfare of these horses would be negatively impacted by a ban on slaughter,'' Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in a letter released Thursday.
American horse meat is sold mostly in Europe and Asia; some goes to U.S. zoos.
Defenders of horse slaughter said it offers a cheap and humane way to end a horse's life when the animal no longer is useful. They say many owners cannot afford to care for an unproductive horse.
''These unwanted horses are often sick, unfit or problem animals,'' said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. ``Many of them are already living in pain or discomfort, and tens of thousands more could be neglected, starved or abandoned if their owners no longer have processing available as an end-of-life option.''
Supporters said a U.S. ban likely would send horses to Canada and Mexico for slaughter. Unlike other countries, U.S. law requires that horses and other livestock be unable to feel pain before they are killed.
''These facilities provide a humane alternative to additional suffering or possible dangerous situations,'' said GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee.
Horses are slaughtered at three foreign-owned plants -- two in Texas and one in Illinois. In all, about 88,000 horses, mules and other equines were slaughtered last year, according to the Agriculture Department.