Posted: 3/16/2004 10:21:00 AM ET
Slaughter issue spurs debate in Congress, Illinois, and Texas
A battle to end the slaughter of horses in the United States for human consumption is currently being waged in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., the Illinois Legislature, and a federal court in Texas.

In Washington, Representative Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky) is leading the legislative support of the proposed American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act sponsored by Representative John Sweeney (R-New York) and co-sponsored by 180 other representatives.

"This is one of the most important things Iím working on," Whitfield said on March 3. "I feel we can get 225 to 230 co-sponsors, and it only takes 218 to pass the House. Our coalition is totally committed to passing it. Itís definitely the right thing to do."

Whitfield was moved to action when he learned of the death of 1986 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner and Ď87 Horse of the Year and Breedersí Cup Classic (G1) winner Ferdinand in a Japanese slaughterhouse in 2002, five years after another Thoroughbred superstar, Exceller, was slaughtered in Sweden.

"Horses have never been part of the food chain in the United States," Whitfield said. "Itís unconscionable that weíre allowing this to happen."

As well as preventing the slaughter of horses in the U.S. for human consumption, the bill would prohibit the trade and transport of horses intended for human consumption. Currently, only one state, California, has banned the slaughtering of horses for human consumption, although Texas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi have enacted laws limiting the business of horse slaughter for that purpose.

Noting that foreign-owned slaughterhouses have killed more than 3-million horses and exported the meat for human consumption during the past two decades, the bill decries the method of slaughterhouse killing by stunning equipment that often does not render the animals unconscious.

The number of horses slaughtered in the U.S. has decreased from 342,877 in 1989 to 49,325, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are only two horse slaughterhouses remaining active, both foreign-owned and in Texas, although a third in Illinois is trying to reopen amid controversy.

Many racing-related organizations, including the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, have come out in favor of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. But the American Association of Equine Practitioners recently sent a statement to Congress calling slaughter a necessary aspect of the equine industry. Horses sent to slaughter usually are "no longer serviceable, are infirm, dangerous, or their owners are no longer able to care for them," the statement said.

"Thatís absurd and heartless," said Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation Chairman John Hettinger, who owns Akindale Farm in New York and is the leading stockholder of Fasig-Tipton Co. "The people that say this are forgetting the meaning of personal responsibility and they are counting on other people to do their dirty work for them to get a few hundred dollars. Thatís all that this is aboutómoney. The issue is $500 a head."

"Itís an issue of responsibility," said Breedersí Cup Ltd. President D. G. Van Clief Jr. "Every owner of every horse should be willing to accept the responsibility throughout a horseís lifetime, including euthanasia if necessary. My main concern revolves around the conditions of the horses being transported and the lack of ability to ensure horses are slaughtered in a humane manner. These horses are at risk of being treated inhumanely."

Trying to find alternatives to slaughter, Hettinger founded Blue Horse Charities in partnership with Fasig-Tipton in 2001 to help find other careers or homes for horses that can no longer race. More than 1,000 people since have checked off 0.25% of their sale proceeds to donate to Blue Horse Charities, with Fasig-Tipton matching the donations.

In Illinois, where Belgian-owned Cavel International has nearly completed rebuilding its DeKalb slaughterhouse, which fire destroyed in March 2002, pending legislation would ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption and prohibit the transportation of horses into or out of the state for slaughter. If allowed to reopen, the Cavel plant could slaughter 100 horses a day, according to company officials.

Arlington Park Chairman Richard Duchossois has backed the Illinois bill, saying, "Itís something that has to be done, because itís the right thing to do."

In Texas, even though a 1949 state law prohibits the sale, exhibition for sale, possession for sale, or transfer of horse meat for human consumption, the only two horse slaughterhouses in America remain open due to a federal court lawsuit lodged by the slaughterhouses. John Cornyn, former Texas Attorney General who has since been elected to the U.S. Senate, advised in 2002 that the state law was valid, but the slaughterhouses won an injunction to remain in business until a federal judge rules on the lawsuit.

Bel-Tex Corp., a French-owned plant in business for 27 years in Fort Worth, and Belgian-owned Dallas Crown Packaging in Kaufman lie within 40 miles of Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, the site Breedersí Cup has chosen for the 2004 World Thoroughbred Championships on October 30.óBill Heller