Ferdinand Derby Anniversary Impetus for Slaughter-Ban Push

Supporters of legislation that would ban the transport of horses to slaughter for human consumption are hopeful the measure will pass Congress this year, a co-sponsor of the bill said May 3. Meanwhile, members of the Kentucky horse industry have united to form the Kentucky Equine Humane Center, a shelter and adoption service for unwanted horses of all breeds.

U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky indicated it was no coincidence a media teleconference on the slaughter issue was scheduled the week of the 20th anniversary of Ferdinand's victory in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Ferdinand, who went on to be the 1987 Horse of the Year the year after his Derby win, was sent to Japan for stud duty and eventually slaughtered, according to a report in The Blood-Horse.

Whitfield attended the 1986 Derby. He said he was in his Washington, D.C., office when a horseman visited and told him about news reports that Ferdinand had been slaughtered.

"I was shocked and appalled," Whitfield said.

Legislation to ban horse slaughter for human consumption was first introduced seven years ago and referred to the House Agriculture Committee, where it failed to make headway. Whitfield said a group of legislators decided to rewrite the bill by amending the Horse Protection Act, a move that allowed them to place the bill in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Whitfield is a member of that committee. The lead sponsor of the current American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act is U.S. Rep. John Sweeney of New York; Whitfield said Sweeney was unable to participate in the May 3 teleconference.

"As the Derby approaches, we're stepping up efforts to get the bill to the floor," Whitfield said. "We're having some difficulties with leadership but will have person-to-person meetings with them."

Horse slaughter continues at three foreign-owned plants in the U.S. The plants currently are able to hire private inspectors and continue operations.

Whitfield said there are "strong arguments" for passing the legislation, among them a lack of knowledge by people who sell their horses at some auctions and horse-transportation practices that are unsafe.

"The fact of the matter is many people who take horses to auctions are totally unaware killer buyers may be present," Whitfield said.

About 80,000 horses are believed slaughtered a year, down from about 300,000 a decade ago. Whitfield said groups that oppose the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act are the cattle industry, American Quarter Horse Association, and the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

The AQHA, AAEP, and other horse industry organizations have expressed concerns with legislation that doesn't address how to deal with unwanted or unusable horses, or provide funding for such animals. The AAEP, for instance, in a position paper said chief concerns are long-term placement of affected horses, funding for and care of unwanted horses, and "ambiguous" language in the legislation.

Industry groups last year held the first Unwanted Horse Summit in an effort to devise a strategy for dealing with such equines. Members of the working group have proposed the initiative fall under the auspices of the American Horse Council, whose board of trustees is considering the plan.

Whitfield said the cattle industry's fear that a ban on horse slaughter would lead to a ban on the slaughter of cows is unfounded.

In the Bluegrass state, the Kentucky Equine Humane said its mission is to provide humane treatment and shelter while working as a clearinghouse to seek adoptive homes for all of Kentucky's unwanted horses, regardless of breed. The center also is committed to educate the public and raise awareness for responsible equine ownership so fewer horses end up in crisis.

The KEHC, formation of which was announced May 3, is a non-profit organization in the process of applying for 501(c)(3)status. Tax-deductible donations can be sent to The KEHC Fund at The Blue Grass Community Foundation, 250 West Main Street, Suite 1220, Lexington, KY, 40507.

Founding members of the KEHC are Kim Zito, Joan Ciampi, Meg Jewett, Dr. Stuart Brown, Dr. Tom Daugherty, Carol Farmer, Staci Hancock, Judy McCarron, Lori Neagle, and Sally Spielvogel, according to a release. The KEHC hopes to lease a 50- to 60-acre farm in the Lexington area for its shelter facility, which would accept all equines in the state of Kentucky--including donkeys and mules--provided they have a valid negative Coggins.

There will be no fee for surrendering a horse, donkey, or mule to the KEHC, but donations will be encouraged. KEHC will work closely with other rescue, retraining, and adoption organizations; breed associations; and other equine organizations to help find adoptive homes for Kentucky horses before humane euthanasia is considered.