Field Notes: a Northwest nature blog
One of the reasons many of us live in the Pacific Northwest is the natural wonders that amaze us all. On this blog Seattle Times writers and photographers will share their explorations of the natural world from snowcaps to whitecaps. Write us at email@example.com with your own sightings, questions and wonders to share.
Clearing the way to re-start horse slaughter in the U.S.
Posted by Lynda V. Mapes
Advocates of horse slaughter as a way to manage horse populations, particularly on reservation lands and fragile grasslands, were cheering passage Monday night of a conference report on an appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture that for the first time since 2005 does not contain a rider that prevents the USDA from providing inspections of horse meat for human consumption at processing facilities.
Wild horses on the Warm Springs reservation. Tribal members say slaughter is an important tool for managing horse populations on the reservation.
Alan Berner, photo
The conference report, HR 2112, a consolidated appropriations bill for several agencies including Agriculture, this week is expected to go to the full House and Senate for approval. It must be voted up or down, without amendment.
Advocates for resuming horse slaughter were confident the report could not be altered at this point to once again processing facilities from handling horse meat.
The de-facto ban on horse slaughter, critics say, has lead to an escalation of unwanted horses on reservations and other wild lands, where horses owners did not want to feed were dumped, and wild horses increased in population without the check provided by culling. But without a market for the meat, herds have multiplied. Tribes in the Northwest in particular were concerned by escalating horse populations, as I reported in several stories in The Seattle Times.
"It's a major stepping stone," Jason Smith of the Warm Springs tribe said Tuesday by telephone from Washington, D.C. The national president of the Tribal Horse Coalition, he said the legislation clears the way for his tribe and others to discuss creation of a tribal horse processing facility on reservation lands.
The legislation also means a market will revive for the sale of unwanted horses, which Smith said is key to culling herds that have grown out of control at Warm Springs, trampling fragile lands. "We can start managing our herds again at our tribe."
Sue Wallis, vice president of United Horseman, a non-profit dedicated to horse management issues, said a key for the pro-slaughter side was a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office published last summer that found there were unintended consequences from ending the USDA's ability to conduct the inspections.
Among those consequences were longer haul distances for horses that were sent to slaughter outside the U.S., in Canada and Mexico, where slaughter was conducted without the oversight of U.S. humane slaughter regulations.
The Humane Society of the United States has fought to retain the prohibition on inspections, arguing slaughter is not a valid management tool for horses.
Michael Markarian, chief program and policy officer for The Humane Society of the United States criticized the legislation, writing in a prepared statement Tuesday:
"Allowing federal funds to be used to inspect horse slaughter plants would be a step backwards for America's iconic horses and a waste of tax dollars. Americans don't eat horses, and they don't want them inhumanely killed, shrink-wrapped, and sent to Japan or Belgium for a high-priced appetizer. It's time to stop the export of American horses for slaughter -- not add money to the cash-strapped federal budget to open more slaughter plants."
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