The only two operating horse processing plants were shut down two years ago by state law in Texas and Illinois. Banning horse processing is not a federal issue yet. Congress is currently working on several horse bills and amendments.
One bill would ban the transport of horses to Canada and Mexico for processing, and there are also pending amendments to the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act. None of these efforts will solve the real problem of too many horses. The transport bill was scheduled to be on the floor last week. Ironically, several state governments, including Illinois, are working on bills to make horse processing legal in their states. The Illinois Agriculture Committee passed a bill to resume horse processing last Wednesday by an 11 to 2 vote. Other states are attempting to pass bills that would protect a horse processing plant if it were to start operations. Currently, anyone who would want to start processing horses would be taking a huge gamble with the type of legislation we’ve seen regarding horses.
In all, 11 states have resolutions which state opposition to HR 503, the Conyers-Burton Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act. There are also bills to amend state laws that would promote private investment to open a horse processing plant in the works in Illinois, Missouri, Montana and Tennessee.
The state measures are the result of a resolution made at the National Conference of State Legislatures Ag and Energy Committee. The organization is bipartisan and is an advocate for state interests before Congress and other federal agencies. The conference encouraged legislators in rural states to promote horse processing on the basis of generating jobs and dealing with the unwanted horses.
Banning horse processing in several states has actually created more inhumane treatment of horses by shipping the animals to Canada or Mexico for processing. House Bill 503 actually deals with the symptoms of too many horses rather than the issue itself. The bill is still in committee and the last time the bill was attempted was in 2006. However, the Senate never voted on the issue and it was effectively killed. It was reintroduced last month.
Then there is the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act of 1971. Two congressmen, Nick Rahall, D-WV, and Raul Grijalva, D-AZ, have introduced a bill that amends the act to make it impossible for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to euthanize wild horses. There are over 30,000 horses currently in holding facilities with few people willing to adopt them. There are also excessive populations of wild horses remaining in management areas. These amendments are fairly unrealistic. They will also cost taxpayers huge sums and create a headache that BLM would rather not have. The Government Accountability Office reported recently that BLM should consider euthanasia to stem the problem.
Last week, Madelene Pickens, wife of oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, testified before a House subcommittee that her proposed horse sanctuary for 30,000 wild horses would create a “Living Museum” for an icon of the American West. Pickens made the proposal last fall after BLM announced that they were considering euthanasia to stem the expanding costs of their horse management plan. She has been trying to convince Congress to provide financial support for her efforts to the tune of $500 per horse. It would also help her acquire public lands required to run the operation. She has apparently been shopping for land in the Elko, NV, area. BLM respectfully declined her offer to take the horses, saying her plan is not viable.
It’s amazing that horses are getting this much attention in Washington. If these bills are passed, it will be due to emotion rather than logic, which seems to be how Washington, D.C., works anymore. I hope these states get their horse processing plants and I hope lawmakers realize that they are making the situation much worse. Selling horse meat might be a good way to put some folks back to work and stimulate the economy in some of these hard hit areas. — PETE CROW