A legislative hearing Tuesday by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection concerning the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act drew a large crowd, causing the hearing to be moved after opening remarks.
The original room was standing room only and could not accommodate all of those who wished to attend.
The bill, which has over 200 co-sponsors, seeks to amend the Horse Protection Act of 1970 by prohibiting the slaughter of horses in the United States for human consumption overseas.
Three witnesses for the bill and three who opposed the legislation testified in front of the committee. The supporters for the bill were T. Boone Pickens, Dr. Patricia Hogan, and Russell Williams. Those who spoke against the legislation were Dr. Bonnie Beaver, Dr. Doug Corey, and Dick Koehler.
One of the main concerns about the bill 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.
"By banning slaughter in the U.S., it will not stop slaughter," said Corey, the vice president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. "It won't stop a Ferdinand from happening (the former North American Horse of the Year was believed slaughtered in Japan after going there to stand at stud). I would prefer to have these horses processed in the United States where there are regulations."
"We are all concerned about the fate of unwanted horses," said Dr. Hogan, the chief surgeon for the New Jersey Equine Clinic. "We are just removing one option (by passing this bill)."
Both sides agreed that the legislation elicits emotions because the horse is viewed differently in America than other livestock.
"Can we imagine Barbaro being sent to slaughter if he can't recover?" asked Williams, who is the vice chairman of the American Horse Council but was representing his personal views at the hearing. "Why should other horses be any different?"
Beaver addressed the emotional side of the issues as well, stating, "The concern about emotion is real, but the concern about humane care is even greater."
Another issue involved with the bill is concern about the government's right to regulate private property.
Koehler, the vice president of Beltex, one of three slaughter houses in the United States, said, "It is a matter of choice. If you wish to do that with your horse, I believe you should have the choice to do that."
"I don't think most of the time people know where their horses are going," said Pickens, the chairman of BP Capital Management who is married to the former Madeleine Paulson, a longtime Thoroughbred owner and breeder. "The kill plants are here to make money, and I think that ought to be addressed."
The lead sponsors of the bill -- Reps. John Sweeney and Ed Whitfield --were in attendance as well as Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who is heading the opposition.
The bill is scheduled to go before the full House of Representatives in September.