by Erin Ryder
The United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is considering a change to its regulations concerning the humane transport of horses being shipped to slaughter.
Current special regulations pertaining to slaughter-bound horses only apply to horses being shipped directly to processing facilities. If the horses will be stopping at a sale, assembly point, or feedlot en route to the facility, the regulations do not apply. That means haulers are legally allowed to use double-decker trailers, as long as the animals are not going directly to a slaughter facility.
The proposed rule change would extend the protections in place for equines heading to slaughter to those moving within the pipeline, including horses going to an assembly point, feedlot, or stockyard.
According to a Jan. 8 release, the American Horse Council has told the USDA it supports the proposal to amend the regulations.
“The AHC was one of the principal organizations involved in passing the Commercial Transport of Horses to Slaughter Act," AHC president Jay Hickey said in a statement. "The current rules apply only to the transport of horses directly to the slaughter plant, not to any initial shipment to an assembly point, feedlot, or stockyard during the shipping process. USDA felt that this was a gap in the protections of the act, and the AHC agrees.”
Not everyone supports the proposed changes. The Livestock Marketing Association issued a statement Jan. 7 indicating the organization is not in support of the concept. The LMA said the proposed rule sets up "an unauthorized administrative and enforcement nightmare for the equine industry and livestock markets."
The LMA also noted the USDA has few or no statistics on how frequently double-decker trucks are currently being used to move slaughter horses to intermediate assembly points.
"It is insufficient reason to enforce more regulation on the equine industry, livestock sales, and so-called intermediate assembly points by stating in the proposed rule that the department 'has received numerous reports of this situation (transporting horses to intermediate assembly points to circumvent the law) occurring,' " the LMA stated.
The proposed rule was submitted Nov. 7, 2007, less than two weeks after a double-decker trailer transporting young draft horses from a sale in Indiana to a sale in Minnesota flipped over in Wadsworth, Ill. Of the 59 horses onboard, 18 died due to accident-related injuries. Though the truck's driver was cited for failure to obey a traffic control device and failing to reduce speed to avoid an accident, no further charges have been filed in connection with the incident.
New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Vermont have state laws banning the use of double-deckers to transport horses for any reason. Illinois lawmakers proposed similar legislation in that state following the Wadsworth accident.