Opposition brings proposed horse slaughter ban to halt

Posted April 29, 2011, at 1:28 p.m.
Last modified April 29, 2011, at 2:18 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill proposing a ban on selling and transporting horses for slaughter was withdrawn by its sponsor Friday. Hundreds of people had been expected to testify both for and against the measure at a public hearing originally scheduled for next Tuesday.

Rep. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls, said he will resubmit the bill next winter.

“This will now give me time to create a cleaner bill,” he said, referring to his wanting to remove language that didn’t reflect the measure’s original goal.

LD 1075 would have prevented Mainers from selling horses for slaughter. It also would have outlawed the transport of horses from meat auctions in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania through Maine to Quebec slaughterhouses.

The original bill also proposed the registration of horses for export, a registry of ownership for purposes of export, a penalty of $5,000 for failing to register, and the reclassification of horses from livestock to companion animals.

Knight said all of the registration provisions will be removed from the next bill. He said they were unacceptable to many in the equine industry.

“I must have received more than 300 angry emails and calls,” he said Friday.

Opponents of the ban, which include many horse breeders, feel they need the option available to them to dispose humanely of livestock, similar to how cows and pigs are handled, while proponents —  such as Maine Friends of Animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the U.S. Humane Society — feel that horses are pets and should not be considered for human consumption.

“This is a very, very emotional issue,” Donald Marean, a former member of the Legislature and a trustee with the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association, said Friday. The association objected to the bill, saying that slaughter is a viable solution for horse disposal, particularly for aging horses.

“Which is more abhorrent,” Marean said, “humane slaughter or horses dying by inches for a year or two or three?”

One of the ban’s most ardent supporters is Robert Fisk of Maine Friends of Animals, the organization that brought the bill to Knight to sponsor.

Fisk said the bill is necessary to prevent the slaughter of thousands of horses.

The meat from horses is used for human consumption and food for pets and zoo animals. Currently, no slaughterhouses in the U.S. process horses. All have been handled in either Mexico or Quebec since 2005, when the U.S. government withdrew funding for federal horse meat inspections. The nation’s last three horse slaughterhouses — all in Texas and Illinois — were effectively shut down.

Fisk estimates that between 1,000 and 1,500 horses are taken from Maine to slaughter each year. Marean said that number is grossly exaggerated and that fewer than 300 horses head to Quebec each year.

“To most horse owners in Maine, horses are pets or beloved companions,” Fisk said. “And unlike cows, goats and chickens, horses are not bred for human consumption. Maine should not be complicit in the slaughter process. It is a horrific event.”

Dr. Timothy Powers is a large- and small-animal veterinarian in Pittsfield, a horse racer and owner of horses.

He is often called on to euthanize a horse or provide information about slaughter sales.

“No one looks forward to it but there is no alternative plan,” he said Friday. “For many people, selling to the market is the only economical choice.”

Euthanizing a horse can cost more than $500 after adding the cost of an excavator to bury the animal and the veterinarian’s bill.

Between now and winter, opponents and supporters of the slaughter ban are expected to work on a compromise measure to introduce.

Fisk said that if a compromise is not reached the ban bill will be reintroduced in January 2012.

“The issue of horse slaughter for human consumption stirs emotions on both sides, but if we are both interested in the welfare of the animal we should be able to find some common ground in addressing horses in Maine that are abused, neglected and inhumanely treated,” he said.

Fisk said that while the bill is being recrafted, Maine Friends of Animals will continue to work on private solutions which include finding new homes for unwanted horses, promoting euthanasia for ill or feeble animals, and decreasing the birth rate of horses.

“We believe efforts should be made to assist rescues, help owners in caring for their horses, and to in general increase the ability to rehome unwanted horses,” Fisk said. He said that euthanasia clinics and composting facilities could be expanded and that the friends group is working on options.

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