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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Good News in Congress on King Amendment, Horse Slaughter

The House of Representatives today shot down the $940-billion Farm Bill, by a vote of 195 to 234. It was great news for animal advocates, who vigorously opposed the bill after the House Republican leadership refused to allow floor debate of any animal welfare amendments during Farm Bill consideration—bipartisan amendments aimed at stopping the slaughter of horses for human consumption, upgrading the 1970 Horse Protection Act to crack down on the criminal enterprise of horse soring, and codifying an agreement between the egg industry and animal welfare groups to improve the treatment of laying hens and provide more economic security for egg farmers.

All three of these amendments had broad, bipartisan support, but were not allowed to have the opportunity for full and fair debate. Denying a vote on these amendments contradicted leadership’s pledge to have an open and vigorous discussion of issues of concern to the American public, and flies in the face of all their rhetoric about “an open and fair process” and “letting the House conduct its will.” It was an abuse of the process and a lack of transparency.

HorseWhat’s worse, the Farm Bill included the dangerous, overreaching “King amendment”—language adopted in committee at the behest of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa—seeking to wipe out state rules and laws to safeguard public health, food safety, animal welfare, and environmental standards. It could overturn hundreds of state laws on puppy mill standards, horse slaughter bans, the treatment of farm animals, and so many other issues. If any single state decides to allow the sale of horse meat or dog meat, should every state be forced to accept that product? It’s the lowest common denominator approach to policymaking, and puts all states at the mercy of one or a handful of states.

The King amendment was approved late at night by the House Agriculture Committee with about 10 minutes of debate, and there was no underlying bill, no hearings held, and no opportunity for meaningful examination of a sweeping issue that could impact hundreds of state laws. Notwithstanding the opposition of 50 organizations to this provision, the full House was denied the opportunity to vote on the amendment or examine the issue during floor consideration of the Farm Bill. That’s not the way this Congress should do business with so much at stake for the states and the people they represent.

With no amendment allowed on the floor, the only way to defeat the King amendment was to defeat the entire Farm Bill. We are grateful to animal advocates who weighed in with their own legislators and urged them to vote no.

The Farm Bill did include one important provision to upgrade the federal animal fighting statute, making it a crime to attend or bring a child to a dogfight or cockfight. The spectators are responsible for financing dogfights and cockfights with their admission fees and gambling wagers, and providing cover for animal fighters who blend into the crowd during law enforcement raids. We need a federal penalty, like 49 states already have, for the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting, since many of these cases are multi-state and multi-jurisdictional. The provision was based on the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, and we will be working hard to pass it in this Congress.

HensIn other good news: Today the Senate Appropriations Committee approved, by voice vote, an amendment to the agriculture appropriations bill, offered by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to restore the prohibition on spending tax dollars to inspect horse slaughter plants. The funding ban was in place from 2005 to 2011, and since it was not renewed by Congress, there has been a rush by horse slaughter profiteers to try to open up equine abattoirs on U.S. soil. Now that the House and Senate spending bills both include identical language to de-fund horse slaughter (the House Appropriations Committee passed a parallel amendment last week), we are hopeful that when this legislation goes to House-Senate conference and is signed into law, domestic horse slaughter for human consumption will be restored to illegal status.

But keeping horse slaughter out of the U.S. is only a partial solution to the problem. We need to also prohibit the export of live horses for slaughter in other countries, which is the subject of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (and the subject of a Farm Bill amendment that was denied consideration by House leadership). The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. They don’t “euthanize” old horses—but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and inhumanely kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan.

The spending prohibition is a great step forward, but we need a comprehensive solution to the problem of healthy American horses and companion animals, who have been given medications and drugs their entire lives not intended for the food supply, being butchered, freeze-wrapped, and shipped overseas for a high-priced appetizer. For now, animal advocates should celebrate today’s passage of the horse slaughter de-funding measure, and the defeat of the terrible and radical King amendment.

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