Two versions of a bill to end horse slaughter for human consumption in the United States have been sent to the U.S. House Rules Committee and will be considered at the beginning of September.
The original version of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act was discharged without a vote or a recommendation July 26 by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The House Committee on Agriculture, which heard the bill July 27, added multiple amendments and voted 37-3 to report the bill unfavorably. The adopted amendments significantly altered the intent of the bill, including a grandfather clause allowing the three slaughterhouses in the country (one in Illinois and two in Texas) to stay open. Rep. Ben Chandler of Kentucky was one of the dissenters.
The Rules Committee must decide which of the two versions of the bill, or if both versions or even a combined version of the bill will be sent to the full House for a vote, as well as how many amendments will be allowed.
One of the main concerns about the bill during both hearings involved what would happen to the thousands of horses originally destined for slaughter and who would be financially responsible for them if the bill became law.
"This bill will negatively impact the health and welfare of horses," said Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the chairman of the Agricultural Committee who has led the opposition against the bill. "This legislation is woefully inadequate and misguided."
"What about the breeders?," asked Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, who along with Rep. John Sweeney of New York is one of the lead sponsors of the bill, in addressing the problem of excess horses. "Do they have any responsibility at all? I think they do."
Both sides agreed the legislation elicits emotions because the horse is viewed differently in America than other livestock.
"We Americans hold horses to a higher standard," Sweeney said. "Horses are American icons and deserve to be treated as such."
"Watching a horse slowly die from starvation or disease is not only distressing, it is cruel," Dr. Bonnie Beaver said while testifying against the bill. "They are making this into an emotional charged issue instead of offering solutions to the problems that would be created."
The witnesses at the hearings ranged from veterinarians to horse owners to people in the equine industry, including those involved with slaughter. No one supporting the bill gave testimony at the Committee on Agriculture's hearing.
The bill, which has 202 co-sponsors, is scheduled to go before the full House of Representatives in September after it is cleared by the House Rules Committee.