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Thursday, April 24, 2008

State Lawmakers Horsing Around

When legislators want to duck an issue, they often say it’s outside their jurisdiction. Federal lawmakers tell you to deal with the states, and their state counterparts tell you to deal with the feds.

Horses But when it serves their ideological interests, lawmakers will try to grab, rather than pass, the hot potato. State Rep. Dave Sigdestad, a Democrat in South Dakota, has advanced a proposal in the National Conference of State Legislatures that would urge the U.S. Congress to oppose legislation banning horse slaughter. The resolution will be considered when the NCSL meets in Washington, D.C. this week.

The proposed resolution repeats the fatuous claim that slaughtering tens of thousands of horses each year actually helps them. The horse slaughter industry has been trying to sell this bogus idea with a straight face: If horses weren’t killed they would be cruelly abused or abandoned. Yeah, right—isn't that like destroying the village to save it? Horse owners are not going to turn into would-be Michael Vicks because they can no longer make a buck selling horses for meat. There are plenty of other legal, responsible options, such as resale to new owners, placement at equine rescues or sanctuaries, or humane euthanasia.

It’s especially ironic because state lawmakers have largely been responsible for shuttering the last remaining horse slaughter plants. The Illinois legislature banned horse slaughter last year, and the state’s single slaughter plant, Cavel International, sued to overturn the law by claiming that only the federal government, not the states, could act to ban horse slaughter. The court rejected that argument and upheld the right of the state of Illinois to pass its own laws.

Another federal court upheld a similar state law in Texas, and Lone Star lawmakers defeated an attempt to repeal that prohibition. And Rep. Sigdestad’s own state of South Dakota flatly rejected a bill this year that would have opened a new horse slaughter plant with a $1 million loan from state taxpayers.

Horses2 If they don’t want horse slaughter in Texas or South Dakota, where could they possibly want it? Not anywhere in the U.S., as there is not a single operating horse slaughter plant in the country. Arizona, California, Oklahoma, and other states have laws dealing with horse slaughter. Americans don’t eat horse meat, and don’t very much like our horses butchered so their flesh can be consumed as a delicacy in Europe and Asia.

Federal lawmakers have done their part, too, and have voted time and time again to cut funding for inspections at horse slaughter plants. They need to finish the job by passing the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, S. 311 and H.R. 503, which would prevent horse slaughter plants from reopening in the U.S. and would also stop the flow of horses to slaughter in Canada and Mexico where the transport distances are grueling and the slaughter methods cruel and clumsy.   

Absent the federal export ban, the states cannot ensure their own horses are not shuttled thousands of miles to grisly deaths in foreign plants. The NCSL resolution would undercut the efforts of state legislatures, at the behest of their citizens, to protect horses from this grim and painful end.

State and federal legislators should join together in getting the horse slaughter ban over the finish line, not turn back the clock on the progress that has been made for horses in both arenas. Contact your own state legislators and tell them that if they are attending the NCSL meeting, they should slaughter this wrongheaded resolution.


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