Horse Protection Act

When Congress returns from its August recess, lawmakers will deal with a bill of great interest to horse lovers. The House is expected to take up changes to the Horse Protection Act. The changes would include outlawing the slaughter of U.S. horses for human consumption abroad. The measure could determine the future of two Texas-based businesses. Max Cacas has more from Capitol Hill

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The House approved the bill just before it adjourned for the summer. Its author is Congressman John Sweeney, a Republican representing the horse-farm rich Catskills region of Eastern New York. He says an incident four years ago prompted him to introduce the bill.

"In 2002, a horse named Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner, was slaughtered and served as a meal overseas. In fact, he was advertised as 'Eat an American champion'".

Generally speaking, Americans don't eat horsemeat. But diners in Europe, and also Japan, consider it a delicacy. The U.S. supply comes mostly from two Texas slaughterhouses. Both are owned by foreign companies. Doctor Bonnie Beaver of Texas A&M University says horse slaughter for human consumption is a humane and viable alternative for horse owners who can't take care of their animals.

"The American Horse Slaughter Protection Act does not address financial support required for horses given up by their owners. Inadequate funding has huge potential to create opportunities for inadequate facilities and care."

Multi-millionare oilman T. Boone Pickens from Dallas favors the bill, and opposes the horse slaughter. He told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that such killing is "un-American".

"According to the USDA, nearly all of the thoroughbreds, Arabians, Quarter Horses and Wild Mustangs arriving at these plants are healthy young horses that are in "good to excellent condition". Because of the quick kill and export, these slaughter plants have become a convenient dumping ground for stolen horses."

Houston Democrat Gene Green, on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, points out that in the last few years, Congress has taken several legislative steps to try to curb the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

"When Congress cut funding for inspections of horsemeat, the companies began paying USDA on a fee-for-service basis, continuing inspections. Its time we passed legislation to end this practice and end horse slaughter for human consumption."

Two committees elected to send the bill to the full House with "unfavorable" recommendations. Such action leaves it to House leaders to decide the future of the bill. Despite this, House Majority Leader John Boehner has promised that the Horse Protection Bill will be one of the first measures considered by the full House in September. Over in the Senate, a companion bill still awaits its first committee hearing.

For Houston Public Radio, I'm Max Cacas on Capitol Hill.

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