Congress Rejects Conyers Proposal to Criminalize Horse Slaughter

Published January 1, 2009

Environmental activist groups often propose well-meaning laws that sound good but would ultimately have negative real-world consequences for people and the environment alike. Responding to just such a proposal, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee wisely decided to reject a 2008 bill that would have criminalized the transport of horses for slaughter leading to human consumption.

Under the bill, spearheaded by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), anyone caught possessing, selling, transporting, or purchasing horses for slaughter or possessing the meat from processed horses would be fined or jailed up to three years.

Overpopulation Harms

On the surface, such opposition to horse slaughter for human consumption appears noble. No one of sound mind is happy that horses—the pride of the American West, star of numerous Hollywood productions, and image of untamed independence—are being bound and put to death.

By playing on people’s sympathy for horses and avoiding the realities of environmental constraints, activists have convinced well-intentioned but under-informed citizens to support a ban on horse slaughter. The tools of the anti-slaughter side are simple, yet powerful: emotional videos, graphic photographs, and accompanying stories of abuse.

In 2007, the last three horse slaughter plants in America—located in California, Illinois, and Texas—were closed, due in part to pressures on state legislatures from animal rights’ groups. These plants were foreign-owned but covered by U.S. Agriculture Department standards, and the unwanted horses sent there were processed and sold as food to markets in other countries where horse meat is common fare.

Unintended Consequences

Recently passed laws prohibiting horse processing mean U.S. horses must be transported outside the country, to Canada or Mexico, for processing. Conyers’ bill would have prohibited even that from occurring, forbidding the transport or sale of horses for such processing.

The existing bans already have had negative unintended consequences, as foreign processing plants do not always adhere to the standards for ethical treatment of animals that had governed U.S. processing plants.

Animal rights activists propose to solve this problem by having taxpayers pay for construction and maintenance of horse shelters. With approximately 150,000 horses abandoned or sold at auction by their owners as unwanted, and a price tag of $2,000 per year per horse for retirement care, the effort would cost taxpayers $300 million per year.

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) lives in horse country in Virginia and is a research fellow of The Heartland Institute.