The Charlotte Observer
Posted on Mon, May. 03, 2004
Stars side with Spratt on slaughter of horses

Bill, opposed by Hayes, forbids butchering for human consumption


Rep. John Spratt got some star-studded help from Hollywood last week in his bid to promote a bill that would prohibit the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

Joining the York, S.C., Democrat at a reception on Capitol Hill were Bo Derek, the sex symbol in "10" (1979) and Tony Curtis, whose credits include such classics as "Sweet Smell of Success" (1957), "Some Like It Hot" (1959) and "Spartacus" (1960).

Opponents of the bill may not have that kind of star power on their side. But they do have something more potent in Washington: political power, in the form of key members of the House Agriculture Committee - - including Rep. Robin Hayes. The Republican from Concord isn't much of a fan of movies or of Spratt's bill, which he worries could lead to a ban on other livestock slaughter.

Derek owns Spanish and Andalusian horses; Curtis and his wife, Jill, rescue horses by "bidding against the killers" -- as she put it -- at slaughter auctions.

As a kid, Spratt spent weekends riding horses on his family's farm in Fort Mill. Then, as an adult, he owned some Tennessee walking horses. The last one died a year ago.

"If you've grown up with and ridden horses, you have an affinity for these special creatures," Spratt told the celebrities, reporters and others. "They're as close to human as you can get in the animal domain."

Though Americans don't eat horsemeat, it's considered a delicacy in parts of Europe and Asia, and 45,000 U.S. horses are slaughtered for food every year.

The bill from Spratt and Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., would shut down the last two horse slaughterhouses in the United States. Both are in Texas and foreign-owned: One ships meat to France, the other to Belgium.

The legislation would also ban the transport of horseflesh and live horses from the United States if their destiny is to be on somebody's plate somewhere. Japan prefers to import live horses and slaughter and eat them there, according to Christopher Heyde, policy analyst for the Society for Animal Protective Legislation. Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner, was slaughtered in Japan in 2002.

Derek called Spratt "heroic" for his work to protect horses.

Added Tony Curtis: "They're feeling, caring animals. We should start treating them like we treat each other. Actually, better than we treat each other. We're schmucks to each other."

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act -- House Resolution 857 --  has 202 co-sponsors. That's almost half of the House. But the bill also has formidable opposition.

It comes from the American Veterinary Medical Association, which accepts humane euthanasia for horses that are abandoned. And from Hayes, and House Agriculture Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

Hayes -- chairman of the Livestock and Horticulture subcommittee, where Spratt's bill may end up -- said he got a nice phone call from Derek about the bill.

"She was a most pleasant person," reported Hayes, who'd met the actress at a Fort Bragg event a few years ago. "But I told her I couldn't really support (the bill)."

His reason: Banning the slaughter of horses could set a "bad precedent ... that could lead to other things." Namely, banning the slaughter of cows, calves, lambs -- meat Americans do eat and meat American farmers and ranchers do export.

If the bill does reach his subcommittee, Hayes said, "we don't intend to take it up."