Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Don't let horses be slaughtered for meat

John Holland

Holland is a Shawsville horse owner.

We have no more say than a horse to slaughter. That was the harsh reality presented by 6th District Rep. Bob Goodlatte June 28 in a crowded courthouse in Lexington.

The overflow crowd had come because we love our horses and support the American Horse Slaughter Protection Act, which would prevent them from being brutally slaughtered by French- and Belgian-owned slaughterhouses in Texas.

Goodlatte is blocking the bill based on false and unsubstantiated pretexts. It became clear June 28 that Goodlatte is abusing his power as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and is neglecting his constitutional responsibility of representing the interests of his constituency. Why?

Virginia maintains the nation's fifth-largest equine population. It is a region that loves and profits from horses, including one of the state's leading horse industry organizations, the Virginia Thoroughbred Association.

A recent poll shows that 75 percent of Virginians want the ban, and their reasons are clear. The bill would cost taxpayers nothing. Horses are taxed as companion animals, then slaughtered as livestock. The slaughterhouses are French- and Belgian-owned and pay no taxes on exported meat. The horses slaughtered are young, healthy animals, not the old and disabled. Worst of all, stolen horses end up in slaughter, as do wild mustangs and horses sold under false pretenses.

First Goodlatte said the bill sits in his committee only because it lacks needed support. I produced a recent memo he wrote to his "colleagues" begging their help in defeating the bill. If there wasn't support in committee, I asked, why was he pressuring his colleagues? Three committee members have admitted withdrawing as co-sponsors at "the request of the chairman."

The memo contained Goodlatte's favorite claims: Stopping slaughter would lead to "surplus" horses being abandoned and neglected, and their care would eventually cost the taxpayers half a billion dollars. I pointed out that, although slaughter is again increasing, the number of horses slaughtered had dropped from 348,000 in 1989 to less than 50,000 last year. The "surplus" horses have simply been absorbed without any cost to the government.

Just two weeks earlier, during a major address in Roanoke, Goodlatte had made the claim that stopping slaughter would increase abuse - but, when pressed, admitted he had never looked at the statistics that linked abuse to slaughter.

At the June 28 meeting, Goodlatte claimed to have proof that horse abuse had doubled in Illinois after the slaughterhouse burned - but this turned out to be based on the wrong date of the fire and actually proved that the abuse had doubled while the plant was operating. Abuse then declined.

Next, Goodlatte spoke of the organizations supporting his position. The majority of the organizations listed in Goodlatte's memo were slaughter-related, including poultry producers - but on June 28 he chose to speak only of the few horse and veterinary organizations.

Immediately, members of these organizations protested that they had not been polled and were being misrepresented on the issue. The vast majority of horse organizations are on record supporting the anti-slaughter bill. Why are a few top people misrepresenting these organizations?

Goodlatte shifted from one long discredited excuse to another.

"If this bill is passed, the horses will just be sent to Canada for slaughter," he said. The bill would specifically prohibit such export.

Finally, the excuses and rhetoric were exhausted. An angry woman stood up and asked, "What do we have to do to get you to stop blocking this bill?" Goodlatte defiantly pronounced, "You must convince me, and you have not done so."

Shocked, another person asked, "What kind of a democracy do we have if one man can block the will of the whole country?" Goodlatte replied, "This isn't a democracy, it is a republic."

Two hundred years ago, John Adams said, "A republic is a government whose sovereignty is vested in more than one person," but Goodlatte had just told us the decision was his alone. Adams stood corrected.

Finally the truth was out. This wasn't about committee support, it wasn't the desire of his constituents and it certainly wasn't about the welfare of horses. But then, why would Goodlatte risk the ire of his constituents for a tiny, foreign-owned industry?

Is he sacrificing himself nobly on the conservative altar of property rights? Has he become reckless and irrational from having $1 million in his campaign fund while running unopposed? Does the answer lie in the disproportionate support Goodlatte receives from a handful of Texas cattlemen?

Whatever the reason, it clearly has nothing to do with the will of the people of the 6th District. Goodlatte made at least that much clear.

Copyright 2004
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