By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
This week, members of Congress will turn their attention to forms of cruelty to horses that many Americans might think ended long ago. And we think it’s time they set aside any differences to do something decisive to help horses.
Tennessee walking horses are forced to perform a high-stepping gait known as the “Big Lick” by bad actors who treat the horses’ legs with caustic chemicals, chains and intensely painful techniques in a practice known as “soring.” Though Congress aimed to end soring in 1970 with enactment of the Horse Protection Act, weak enforcement, loopholes and pressure from the walking horse industry have allowed the practice to continue.
And while horses no longer face slaughter domestically—the American public overwhelmingly rejects the idea of slaughtering horses to eat them—tens of thousands of U.S. horses are still sold at auction each year, then slaughtered abroad for food.
Ending these cruelties stands at the heart of our equine protection agenda, and they are the subject of two bills, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 5441 and the Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act, H.R. 3355 which will get a Congressional subcommittee hearing this week.
Their focus on equine welfare is not the only thing these measures have in common. They stand out for attracting over 200 House co-sponsors in the 117th Congress. With 257 and 216 co-sponsors, respectively, and solid bipartisan backing, the PAST and SAFE Acts deserve to go to the floor of the House of Representatives soon for a full vote.
The PAST Act directly targets soring in the Tennessee walking horse industry; it would amend the Horse Protection Act to eliminate industry self-policing, ban soring devices and strengthen penalties. Our investigation of illegal conduct by one industry figure rocked the field in 2013, when a trainer who had won the highest awards at horse shows that featured sored horses was prosecuted on state and federal charges and permanently banned from industry events. That case exposed weaknesses in the 1970 HPA and led to the initial introduction of the PAST Act.
In addition to building support for PAST over the years, we have pursued a regulatory route to reform. We provided input to the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its 2010 audit of the agency’s enforcement of the HPA. The audit was harshly critical of the program’s reliance on an industry-run inspection
s regime for detecting soring at horse shows, sales and exhibitions, recommending its abolition. USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service agreed and committed to developing a new program uncompromised by conflicts of interest.
In 2017, USDA announced a final rule to bring responsibility for enforcement and licensing, training and oversight of inspectors back to APHIS. The rule also proposed to end the use of soring devices on horse breeds known to be subjected to soring. We led a campaign that produced 100,000 public comments in support.
Unfortunately, the rule’s implementation was stymied by a change of administration and a freeze on new regulations. We continue to press for a strong Horse Protection Act rule, but right now, we need your help in building support for the PAST Act and getting it passed into law during the 117th Congress. Please contact your federal legislators today and help us spread the word on the need for action now.
As for horse slaughter, we’ve successfully driven it out of the United States and prevented its return. But we have not yet won our fight to stop the export trade that has outsourced slaughter to neighboring nations and perpetuated a pipeline of misery and suffering for horses purchased by kill buyers and shipped to their deaths. Some 83% of Americans support a permanent ban on horse slaughter and termination of horse exports to foreign slaughterhouses. That’s what the SAFE Act proposes, and we’re asking you to help us boost support for it.
Incredibly, despite the weight of the evidence that soring and horse slaughter are ready for history’s dustbin, they have their defenders in the House and Senate. During the remaining months of the current Congress, we’re going to do all that we can to spotlight the moral challenge the two practices present. It’s a straightforward argument, and we’ll take on any party who wants to squander their time defending the indefensible. With the support of countless Americans of all persuasions, we’ve made the case against these cruelties. Let’s join forces to end them in this session of Congress.
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