Officers on the road

Published on February 01, 2004
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Officers on the road is a monthly feature of the JAVMA News, designed to let AVMA members know about the issues their leadership is addressing.

Officers on the road

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, H.R. 857, has become a controversial bill. What insights can you offer veterinarians about this legislation?

 Dr. Bonnie Beaver, AVMA president-elect responds:

The AVMA, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and several other groups oppose the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act as it is written. Two issues are really involved. The act itself bans the slaughter of horses for food, and it bans the sale and transport of horseflesh and live horses intended for that purpose. Many groups are promoting this legislation for a variety of reasons. Some view horses as companion animals that should not be eaten. Others feel all animals should be allowed to live out their full life expectancy. Still others may view this as an opportunity to get continuous funding to support horse rescue facilities.

Instead of bans on horse slaughter and the sale of horseflesh, we believe this bill should address the welfare of horses while they are alive instead of telling people what they can or cannot eat. The welfare of animals of any species in transport and at slaughter should be the highest priority. They should undergo humane euthanasia at the plant to which they are safely transported in appropriate vehicles.

In the past, the AVMA has worked with regulators on the types of trucks that horses could be transported in, the length of time they could be transported, and so on, to make sure that the provisions reflect reasonable expectations. We want animals treated humanely while they are alive. We are basing our understanding of their welfare on the science that has evolved to be able to evaluate that animal's needs.

It is important for veterinarians not to confuse those two issues. We also need to be aware from a logistics standpoint. Currently, 50,000 to 55,000 horses are slaughtered every year. If they are allowed to live out their full life span, how can they be maintained in a humane manner, receiving the food, medical care, and husbandry that are necessary for their humane existence, and who will bear the cost? And when death occurs, how can we properly dispose of the body and protect the environment?

This bill has been in the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade since March 2003. Why the recent revival in interest?

The newness is that it's being pushed in Congress and resurfacing as a hot issue. Bills often disappear from the radar screen, only to reappear when certain groups begin lobbying certain legislators. There is also going to be a push to get legislation passed before Congress adjourns, so the sponsors don't have to reintroduce the bills later on.

We all must be aware of proposed legislation to guard against bills that have not taken all ramifications of implementation into account. This is certainly one of those.