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Anti-horse slaughter act set for House vote Thursday

Friday, September 1, 2006

Legislation to keep horses from being taken to slaughter houses where they'd be butchered for human consumption is set for a Congressional vote on Thursday.

House Bill 503 would also increase funding for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service from $500,000 to $5 million, and permit APHIS to stop horses being transported so they may be inspected.

Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Murfreesboro) late last week said the bill is ill-conceived and is being forced to a floor vote as a political favor by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to help bolster the legislative record of the bill's sponsor, Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.) who's in a hard race for re-election.

Shelbyville native Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) says "The race horse people are for the bill. The walking horse people are against it."

Meanwhile, actress Bo Derek who starred in the movie "10" was set to demonstrate Tuesday in Washington, D.C., for a ban on slaughtering horses in the U.S. for consumption abroad, according to the Associated Press quoting singer Willie Nelson. His daughter, Amy, and comedian Richard Pryor's widow, Jennifer, are also rallying for Sweeney's bill today, Nelson said.

"If you've ever been around horses a lot, especially wild horses, you know they are part of the American heritage," Willie Nelson told the AP. "I don't think it's right that we kill and eat them."

Bo Derek said on ABC News, "This horse meat isn't going to countries ... where there might be famine. It goes to gourmet restaurants that ... in some instances advertise 'Eat an American horse.'"

Gordon said Hastert forced HB-503 out of two committees Agriculture, and Technology and Commerce. Gordon is on the latter.

"There should have been a committee vote," said Gordon, calling it 'the first time in 20 years', he's seen a speaker, force a committee chairman, to send a bill to the floor without a committee vote.

"Fear of delay or amendments was Hastert's reason," Gordon said. Sweeney's district includes horse racing interests.

"The problem is the bill has gone far beyond the original intent and the appropriate legislative oversight," said Gordon, noting changes that could upset the walking horse industry and Bedford County.

"This bill is about a lot more than whether someone can or cannot eat a horse," said Gordon who represents Bedford County.

"I'm going to try to amend it," he said. "It really needs to come back to committee for a review like any other bill."

While speaking at the Bedford County Courthouse on Thursday, Gordon was asked what he did when APHIS inspectors and Tennessee Walking Horse Commission horse inspectors clashed over whether certain horses at the National Celebration displayed violations of the Horse Protection Act.

"Through back door channels, I contacted folks at the Department of Agriculture and worked with Bill Jenkins," Gordon said, referring to the East Tennessee Republican in Tennessee's Congressional delegation.

Contacting Jenkins was to alert all of Tennessee's federal legislators "in the best interest of all to settle things down and move forward through the Celebration," Gordon said.

Greater attention should be paid to bringing more consistency to enforcement of the scar rule, he said.

As for the proposed 10-fold increase in the APHIS budget, Gordon noted, "Some of that will be for enforcement of the Horse Slaughter Bill, but you don't need $4.5 million for that, so there will be more horse inspections."

"That, in itself, is not a bad thing," Gordon said. "It's the lack of consistency that we need to be concerned about."

Cooper's comments were not as extensive on the Horse Slaughter Bill, in part because he is not a member of the Technology and Commerce Committee like Gordon and, therefore had less personal involvement.

Cooper said he wanted more information about the bill before he made a decision on it.

He did, however, indicate that the bill would affect three slaughter houses. They are in Texas and Illinois.

"It's an emotional issue,"Cooper said. "The bill hadn't moved at all and then the Republican leadership said it should move. I think they want it to pass."

Cooper said that, to his knowledge, he's never eaten horse meat.

A release from Sweeney's office says that in 2003, more than 49,000 horses were slaughtered in the U.S. by two foreign-owned slaughterhouses in Texas. New York, California, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Vermont and Virginia have horse slaughter laws. "A federal law is needed because horses are transported across state lines and they're allowed to be trucked without food or water for more than 24 hours."

"It's inhumane and the vast majority of Americans agree with what we are trying to do," Sweeney said, thanking "Ms. Derek for helping attract national attention to our cause."