Breaking News: Key Committee Acts to Sustain Horse Slaughter Ban in the U.S.; Senators Also Decide Not to Subvert Organics Rule
Today the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment, advanced by Senators Tom Udall, D-NM, Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Lindsey Graham, R-SC., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Christopher Coons, D-Del., to bar any horse slaughter plants from opening in the United States. This Senate action mirrors the House action on its version of the agriculture spending bill. It’s a great outcome, and it sets us on a trajectory to sustain a crucial provision we secured at the end of last year to prevent any of these slaughter plants from opening in the near future.
The HSUS and our allies succeeded in shuttering the last three American horse slaughter plants in 2007, with a key state legislative action in Illinois and a series of critical federal court rulings. But it’s been an ongoing battle to keep new plants from opening, and we’ve used a variety of strategies, including more litigation and congressional action, to ensure our hold on it.
Today’s Senate vote was uneventful in the Appropriations Committee because lawmakers there recognized we have a strong majority that opposes the appalling practice of killing horses for export to foreign meat markets. The House vote, which occurred last month, was touch-and-go, with Representatives Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Charles Dent, R-Penn., securing their amendment by the narrowest of margins – on a 25 to 23 vote.
We don’t round up dogs and cats for slaughter, and it should be unthinkable to do that to a species that helped us settle the nation. Our position is grounded on the notion that people who own horses should act responsibly and provide lifetime care or transfer horses to someone who can.
Kill buyers and other key players in the horse slaughter industry trot out the notion that they are somehow “helping” horses by routing them to slaughter, but there is nothing noble about their enterprise. Horses are dragged and whipped into trucks and endure long journeys without food, water, or rest. Many die or sustain injuries during transport, including broken legs and punctured eyes. The idea of providing veterinary care to an animal about to be slaughtered is unthinkable to these profiteers.
In a second significant and favorable outcome, the Senate Appropriations Committee took no adverse action to stall a USDA effort to strengthen animal welfare standards for “organic” foods. The rule covers a whole array of housing, husbandry, and management topics, including the prohibition of certain painful practices, like tail docking of pigs and cattle, and debeaking of birds. A new section covering animal handling and transport to slaughter is also proposed for addition. Importantly, the rule sets minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for egg-laying chickens, and requires that producers provide a sufficient number of exits and outdoor enrichment to entice birds to go outside on a daily basis. It also specifies that covered porches and similar structures do not qualify as outdoor space. While existing organic poultry operations have five years to come into compliance with outdoor access requirements for birds, the minimums for indoor space and all other welfare standards in the proposed rule will come into effect one year after the rule becomes final. Opponents of the rule change sought to include language to slow or block it, but Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., led a charge to ensure no harmful language was included.
The Obama Administration’s move demonstrates the changing social consensus on animals among consumers who are increasingly concerned about farm animal welfare. A 2015 Consumer Reports survey found that over 70 percent of Americans believe there should be meaningful minimum-size living space requirements for farm animals raised under the organic label, and that the animals should have access to the outdoors. Yet, current regulations do not guarantee these basic protections for organically-raised animals. The Senate was right not to interrupt this rule-making process.