Horse slaughter ban still to be considered
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
By Joyce Morrison, Southern IL News Correspondent
Photo of a mare and foal waiting to die at a horse slaughter facility in Texas, as featured on
SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois General Assembly may decide in the closing days of this year's legislative session whether they will continue to allow horses to be slaughtered and the meat exported to European nations for human consumption.

The anti-horse slaughter bill has been re-introduced as an amendment to HB 649, moving along the concepts of Chicago Democrat Rep. Robert Molaro's ban stalled in committee.

The main arguments are over how unwanted horses will be disposed and whether horses should be treated as livestock or companion pets.

It is illegal to eat horsemeat in the United States, although it is not illegal for packers to kill horses to be sold to an overseas market, primarily in Belgium, France and Japan.

There are three facilities in the United States that slaughter horses for human consumption, and foreign companies own all. Two facilities are in Texas and one in Illinois -- Belgium-owned Cavel International -- is reopening after being rebuilt after being destroyed by a suspicious fire two years ago.

The DeKalb County facility will have the capacity to kill 100 horses per day or 26,000 annually and will provide approximately 40 jobs for the area.

Despite the efforts of natural allies such as horse organizations and humane animal groups to ban horse slaughter, the Horse Council and Illinois Farm Bureau support the option for animal owners. The Farm Bureau says it is a practical way to dispose of unwanted animals.

"The overall impact to the equine industry if this bill is passed will, ironically, reduce the overall quality of life for thousands of horses in our state, the Midwest, and the nation," Bart Bittner, Assistant Director of State Legislation of the Illinois Farm Bureau reported.

Bittner wrote in a report published by the farm bureau that the practice of harvesting horsemeat is a humane, regulated, and sanitary method of disposing of horses. He suggested the alternative is trucking animals thousands of miles to Texas, Canada or Mexico or expensive euthanization of an animal and removal of the carcass.

Some cattle owners are unhappy with the current European Union tariff structure on American beef, which is at 20 percent, as compared to its 5.1 percent tariff on American horsemeat.

"The European Union tariff structure favors the Belgian and French slaughterers who come to America and harvest our fat young healthy horses," Mary Nash of Kaufman, Texas said in a letter to State Rep. Molaro. Kaufman, Texas is where the French owned Dallas Crown live slaughter plant is located.

Opponents to slaughter argue that selling horsemeat abroad hinders American agriculture since it competes with the beef industry.

The Illinois Farm Bureau says the ban sets a dangerous precedence as it targets one specific business that has operated in Illinois for seventeen years. Equine-related animal welfare dockets have doubled at the Illinois Department of Agriculture since the plant closed as a result of a fire according to the Farm Bureau report.

Dr. Lydia Gray, the executive director of Hooved Animal Humane Society since 2001, is an equine veterinarian and educator. Raised on a Greene County farm, Dr. Gray is a state-approved investigator. She disputes the Farm Bureau's claims.

The Department of Agriculture records show horse complaints from 2000 to 2002 had risen approximately 100 each year. In 2002, there were 413 complaints which was the year Cavel International's facility burned. However, in 2003, there were 409 reports that showed a decrease.

Dr. Gray said Hooved Animal Human Society (HAHS) has seventeen investigators whose workload dropped by almost 100 complaints annually after the Cavel facility closed down.

HAHS reports that they receive complaint calls, and when following up in an investigation, they find the owner does not want to invest in veterinarian and feed bills while waiting for the slaughter facility to reopen. Gray helps to rescue and relocate those animals.

"People get a horse and do not realize there is an expense in feeding and care attached,” Gray said. "I have a beautiful palomino recovering on pasture now at my place rescued because the owner neglected it while he was waiting for the slaughter house to open."

"There are numerous rescue organizations in Illinois who will take an unwanted horse and will care for it until it is adopted," Gray said.

Horse owners who take their horse to an auction and assume it will be sold to another family often do not realize there are buyers there hoping to buy "killer" horses to be slaughtered.

While supporting horse slaughter, the Horseman's Council of Illinois has run into a head-on collision with other horse groups. The Chicago Barn to Wire horseracing news line shows the horseracing industry to be opposed to slaughtering their animals. Thoroughbred, standard bred and show horse groups are backers of the horse slaughter for consumption ban.

Ferdinand, 1986 Derby Winner and 1987 Horse of the Year who won almost $4 million in his career, is believed to have met his death in a Japanese slaughterhouse following being sold to a Japanese breeding farm where his career to produce winners did not materialize.

One of the Horseman's Council organization's spokespersons is R.D. (Dean) Scoggins, DVM, who has served as equine extension veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine for some 27 years. Scoggins is a member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

Scoggins wrote in a letter to the legislative committee considering the bill in November of 2003 that he had visited the Cavel plant on at least ten different occasions when it was in operation. He said that the captive bolt method for killing the horses "is considered by persons qualified in neurology and anesthesia as one of the most humane means of death of available."

He said that, in his observations, the captive bolt method was effective in immediately stunning a horse. "I have not seen a partially stunned horse," he wrote.

Dr. Gray, who sees the slaughter house methods as cruel and inhumane said, "When the decision comes for your horse to be put down, it is much more humane to have your veterinarian come and euthanize the animal. In 30 seconds the animal is brain dead and will fall to the ground. The heart will continue to beat until there is no more oxygen, which is a relatively short time. There are rendering trucks that can dispose of the dead animal or many prefer to bury their pet in their pasture."

Horses are routinely treated with medications and health care products and since they are not intended for consumption, no withdrawals or regulations are practiced as with animals such as cattle and hogs that are raised primarily for food.

State Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-DeKalb), where Cavel International is located, opposes the bill in favor of the reopening of Cavel. The State Board of Elections shows Pritchard received campaign donations from Cavel International in the amount of $500, Cavel manager James Tucker donated $500, and attorney Brett Brown contributed $350 to the Pritchard campaign on December 22, 2004.

Horse trainer Gail Vacca of DeKalb, who lives near the Illinois slaughter facility, says this is not humane treatment for horses and she has videos as evidence. Vacca believes consumption of horsemeat adds to the culture’s "slippery slope.”

"We are supposed to be civilized - we don't sell our thirteen year old girls for marriage either," she said.

Vacca said horses have always been considered a companion pet and it is not American culture to eat them. She asked whether the horsemeat issue will open the door for cat and dog slaughter houses to send meat to the countries where it is their culture to consume cats and dogs.

"We continue to decline in our values in the United States. Killing horses for consumption is just another downgrading and another move down the slope," Vacca said, "where will it stop?"

At the Federal level, veterinarian and U.S. Senator John Ensign (R-NV) and Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), as well as several other senators, have introduced the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (S.2352), a bill to end the slaughter of horses in the United States for human consumption and to prevent additional horses from being shipped live to slaughterhouses in Canada, Mexico or any other Country. A similar bill (HR857) is in the House and has over 200 bipartisan cosponsors according to the National Horse Protection Coalition.

US Department of Agriculture statistics show that in 2003, 49,325 horses were slaughtered in the US for human consumption primarily in Belgium, France, Italy and Japan - up 16% from 2002. This number does not include the tens of thousands of horses transported to Mexico and Canada for slaughter.

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