By Wayne Pacelle, HSUS
Horses are a big part of our agenda at The HSUS, which houses the only national advocacy department focused on protecting horses from commercial exploitation. Our team, unfortunately, has no shortage of issues to contend with, given that there are enormous problems associated with horse slaughter throughout North America, horse “soring” in Tennessee and some other states, the race-day drugging of horses used in the racing industry, and the mismanagement of wild horses and burros in the West.
This year has not only seen an emerging consensus that we must do something about horse soring and the drugging of racehorses, but it has also seen a stubborn obstructionism on the part of certain industry operatives who don’t want the exercise or the expansion of federal authority in these domains. Working with more reform-minded leaders in the horse industry, veterinary community, and many others in a broad coalition, we amassed an extraordinary roster of cosponsors for anti-horse soring legislation in Congress. However, just a handful of lawmakers blocked consideration. This was one of my great frustrations, given the impregnable case we made for reform.
On the horse racing issue, compelling hearings were held on good legislation that failed to advance, but there is momentum building inside and outside the industry and in Congress that there must be reform and that it must occur at the federal level. The Bureau of Land Management’s oversight of wild horses and burros continues to be problematic on so many levels, with the agency continuing to conduct inhumane round-ups and removals and failing to move decisively toward humane on-the-ground population management strategies built around fertility control. Happily, Congress has directed the agency to focus its attention on this more promising approach.
On horse slaughter, working with many partners, we’ve been involved with important blocking maneuvers and now, just in the last few weeks, some major gains that hold the prospect of turning around the problem of North American horse slaughter. This has been a multi-front war, and several of the “victories” I note below relate to strategic maneuvers made to stymie slaughter in the United States and now in Mexico. We are especially grateful to Animals Angels for its heroic work to document the horse slaughter trade, and the many advocates who have helped drive this issue into the public eye.
Here’s a rundown of those, and other, key victories for equines in 2014:
- Blocking Horse Slaughter Through the Courts: When unscrupulous operators announced plans last year to reopen horse slaughterhouses on American soil for the first time in a decade, we went to court. We joined with Front Range Equine Rescue, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Hollywood legend Robert Redford, and New Mexico Governor Gary King to seek an injunction to stop a horse slaughterhouse from opening in New Mexico. The lawsuit staved off the slaughterhouse’s opening long enough for us to get Congress to act through the annual appropriations process.
- Defunding Horse Slaughter Inspections in 2014: In January, we worked hard to help restore a prohibition on federal funding for the inspection of horse slaughterhouses – a prohibition lifted after lobbying by pro-slaughter forces in 2011. Without federal inspections, horse slaughterhouses cannot legally operate. We helped assemble a bipartisan coalition – led by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Jim Moran (D-VA), and the late Bill Young (R-FL), with major help from Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) – to prohibit USDA expenditures for horse slaughter in the annual spending bill.
- Prohibiting Horse Slaughter in 2015: We fought off aggressive efforts by the horse slaughter industry to reopen horse slaughterhouses in 2015. We helped pass a new prohibition on funding horse slaughter inspections in 2015 by bipartisan votes of 18-12 in the Senate Appropriations Committee and 28-22 in the House Appropriations Committee. And we continued to build support for the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which would ban both the slaughter and export of American horses for human consumption.
- Stopping the Mexican Horse Slaughter Trade: We helped deal a major blow to unscrupulous “kill” buyers, who export American horses to Mexico for slaughter. For years, Humane Society International has lobbied the European Commission to stop the import of horsemeat from several Mexican slaughterhouses that rely almost exclusively on slaughtering American horses for their business. Earlier this month, the European Commission suspended imports of horsemeat from Mexico after its investigators went to EU-certified equine slaughterhouses and documented a multitude of food safety and animal welfare concerns.
- Securing No-Slaughter Pledges From Horse Breeders: Breeders from across the country signed The HSUS’s responsible horse breeder pledge, with over 1,100 breeders making the pledge in the last two years. Breeders who pledge promise to assist with any horse they have bred who becomes homeless and at risk of going to slaughter. Through our Responsible Horse Breeders Council, we’ll continue to reduce overbreeding, secure no-slaughter pledges, and find homes for at-risk horses.
- Building Unprecedented Support to Stop Horse Soring: We assembled an incredible bipartisan group of 308 Representatives and 60 Senators behind the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act to stop the inhumane practice of “soring” show horses, and sustained funding for USDA’s enforcement of the existing (albeit weak) federal Horse Protection Act. Although a small group of obstructionists in Congress prevented a vote on the PAST Act, their position is clearly untenable. The USDA has already stepped up its enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, and we’re hopeful that Congress will pass the PAST Act in 2015.
- Shifting to More Humane Management of Wild Horses and Burros on Public Lands: We worked with congressional allies to get language into the 2015 omnibus spending package encouraging BLM to consider humane methods of wild horse and burro population management, so that the agency can move beyond its current inhumane and costly system of round-ups and long-term penning. The omnibus also contains language prohibiting the destruction of healthy wild horses and burros for human consumption.
- Burro Adoptions: As part of our Platero Project, The HSUS is working to accelerate the number of burros adopted from BLM holding facilities and promote greater protections for these gentle animals. We worked with 40 trainers and placed more than 200 burros in new homes or sanctuaries.
- Defeating Ag-Gag Bills: We defeated, or stopped the emergence of, 11 “ag-gag” bills (which seek to criminalize recording animal cruelty) in nine states. In 2011, our undercover investigation of famed Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Jackie McConnell’s Whitter stables led to felony charges against the trainer and a national movement to stop horse soring. This year alone, we stopped three attempts at bills in Tennessee that would have made investigations like our McConnell exposé illegal.
In 2015, we’ll build on this year’s momentum to end horse soring and horse slaughter for good. We remain committed to pushing a ban on the export and slaughter of American horses for human consumption – and to defunding horse slaughter inspections until we can pass a ban. We’ll strive to do more to generate reforms on the horse racing front and to expand our efforts on wild horse management. And we’ll be pushing the PAST Act strongly in Congress as we seek to finally end the archaic and indefensible practice of soring horses.