Federal Issue Brief

 H.R. 2966/S. 1176: American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011

Special Interest:

AVMA National Journal Ad 11/2/2011 on Unwanted Horses (November 2, 2011)

PDF fileView PDF version

AVMA Position:

Active Pursuit of Defeat

Summary:

Introduced by Congressman Dan Burton (IN-5th) and Senator Mary Landrieu (LA), H.R. 2966/S. 1176 would amend the Horse Protection Act (HPA) to:

  1. Prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption.
  2. Give the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to detain for examination, testing, or taking of evidence, any horse at any horse show, horse exhibition, or horse sale that the Secretary has probably cause to believe is sore, or believed to be in violation of (1).
  3. Raise the authorization of appropriations from $500,000 to $5,000,000.

Background:

  • Horse slaughter has not occurred in the U.S. since 2007 due to a combination of state bans and an annual restriction on USDA funds for inspection of horse processing facilities.
  • Since 2007 the market for horses bound for slaughter has shifted to Canada and Mexico. In 2010 almost the same number of horses were transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, about 138,000, as were slaughtered domestically prior to the cessation of horse slaughter in the U.S.1
  • The GAO reports that since the ban there has been an increase in horse abandonments, abuse, and neglect, as well as horses traveling much longer distances to processing facilities in Canada and Mexico.1

Justification:

  • Unintended Consequences: The passage of this legislation, without adequate funding or an infrastructure in place to care for unwanted horses, will create a series of unintended consequences that negatively impact the health and welfare of the horse.
  • Long-term placement of affected horses: H.R. 2966/S. 1176 fails to address how and where unwanted horses will be placed. If these bills are passed, tens of thousands of U.S. horses will need to be placed in alternative homes, or be euthanized and disposed of properly.
    • While there are many equine rescue and retirement facilities providing homes for unwanted horses, their care capacities range from five horses to, in a few cases, a maximum of 1,000 horses. The capacity at most facilities, however, is 30 horses or less.
    • In the first year alone of this ban, assuming an average capacity of 30 horses per facility, approximately 4,697 equine rescue facilities would be needed. Based on these numbers, there are currently not enough volunteers or placement opportunities to provide the level of care that will be required annually.
    • Many of these facilities are already at or near capacity.
  • Animal Welfare: While many nonprofit equine rescue facilities are well run, regulations must be put in place to establish standards of care to ensure the humane treatment of these unwanted horses.
  • Funding of care for unwanted horses: H.R. 2966/S.1176 does not the address the funding required for care or euthanasia and disposal of tens of thousands of horses per year. The average cost to care for the unwanted horse is estimated at $3,648 per year.2Inadequate funding often creates inadequate care, which is a significant welfare concern for unwanted horses. In fact, there are news articles across the Nation suggesting increasing numbers of abandoned, neglected, and abused horses.
  • Current USDA Authority: H.R. 2966/S. 1176 could undermine current USDA efforts to enforce humane transportation standards for horses being transported for the purpose of slaughter. USDA is currently able to assess civil penalties of up to $5,000 per horse (per violation) of the USDA Slaughter Horse Transport Program. During a 2008 Judiciary Hearing on this issue, Mr. Pacelle, CEO of HSUS, suggested that the predominate animal welfare issue is NOT the method of euthanasia; but rather, inhumane transportation of horses over long distances that is so egregious. This being said, it is imperative that the USDA can continue to enforce the current statutes and ensure the HUMANE transportation of horses. The USDA is making improvements to this program, most recently with the release of their final rule on the Commercial Transport of Equines to Slaughter (http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=APHIS-2006-0168-0094) which extends authority over the entire transport chain of equines to slaughter. Previously regulations only covered horses from the last assembly point, feedlot, or stockyard to the border crossing with Canada or Mexico.

Current Status:

  • H.R. 2966: Referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and in addition the Committee on Agriculture.
  • S. 1176: Referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

AVMA Contact:

Dr. Whitney Miller, Assistant Director, Governmental Relations Division, 202-289-3211


References:

  1. GAO, Horse Welfare: Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter, 2011, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-228#recommendations.
  2. Holcumb, K.E, C.L. Stull and P.H. Kass. "Unwanted horses: The role of nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary organizations". Journal of Animal Science 2010. 88: 4142-4150.