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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Progress for Orcas, but Horses Still at Risk

The House started in on the annual agriculture spending bill yesterday, and began debate on a number of amendments. The appropriations bill already includes a provision, approved by a bipartisan vote in committee, preventing the use of funds to inspect horse slaughter plants in the U.S. for human consumption, and continuing the current prohibition in existing law that blocks domestic horse slaughter plants from opening. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., announced that he will offer multiple amendments to strike or weaken the anti-horse slaughter provision, seeking to clear the way for equine abattoirs on U.S. soil.

Those amendments did not come up yesterday, but will likely come up when discussion of the bill resumes next week. Between now and then, we need every animal advocate and horse lover to contact their U.S. representative at (202) 225-3121, and urge them to vote “No” on the Mullin amendments to allow horse slaughter.

The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. It doesn’t “euthanize” old horses, but precisely the opposite: “killer buyers” purchase young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. Americans do not consume horse meat, and our nation’s limited agency resources and inspectors should not be diverted from the important current duties of protecting the food supply for U.S. consumers.

The House did take up one pro-animal amendment yesterday, offered by Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Jared Huffman, D-Calif., directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the effects of captivity on marine mammals and carry out a much-needed update of its Animal Welfare Act regulations for captive orcas and cetaceans. The amendment passed by voice vote, and sends a strong message to USDA that it must finalize these rules on marine mammal captivity that have been languishing for nearly 20 years.

USDA recognized the need to update the regulations in 1995 and issued partial rules in 2001, but left many of the remaining regulatory provisions unaddressed. During this time, captive marine mammals in U.S. facilities have continued to endure conditions that are often woefully inadequate for the species’ physical and behavioral needs, as established by a substantial body of research. The HSLF and The HSUS have been urging USDA to quickly issue and finalize new rules, and we hope such rules would increase minimum space requirements, establish species-specific ambient temperature ranges, consider the effect of noise on animals, prohibit contact between marine mammals and the public, require appropriate compatible groupings of the same species, and mandate rigorous and complete water quality testing.

ORCA_ISTOCK
Photo Credit: iStock

As countries around the world—including Chile, Costa Rica, India and the United Kingdom—choose to restrict or ban outright the public display of many marine mammal species, it is unconscionable that the U.S. has delayed updating care and maintenance regulations that are now decades behind the science.

It’s an important step forward for captive marine mammals, and one on which we can take positive action.  But we must now redouble our efforts to preserve the anti-horse slaughter language we’ve fought for when the House resumes work on this bill next week.

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