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No justice for horses in court or Congress


WASHINGTON D.C., FORT WORTH, RENO––U.S. District Judge Terry Means on August 25 ruled that the Beltex and Dallas Crown horse slaughterhouses in Fort Worth and Kaufman may continue killing horses despite a 1949 Texas law against selling horsemeat for human consumption. Beltex and Dallas Crown are the two oldest and largest horse slaughterhouses in the U.S.

Means found that federal law permitting horse slaughter supersedes the state law, which has apparently never been enforced.

While the verdict was pending, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice sold 53 horses to Dallas Crown, despite a 2002 opinion by former state attorney general John Cornyn that such transactions would be illegal. Cornyn, now a Republican U.S. Senator, has not been visibly involved in Congressional efforts to save wild horses from slaughter.

Under an amendment to the 1971 Wild and Free Ranging Horse and Burro Protection Act slipped through Congress as a last-minute rider to the November 2004 Consolidated Appropriations Act, the Bureau of Land Management is now mandated to sell “without limitation” any “excess” horse or burro who is more than 10 years of age, or who has been offered for adoption three times without a taker. “Excess” means any wild horse or burro who has been removed from the range. The Bureau of Land Management has taken about 10,000 horses and burros from the range in nine western states in each of the past three years, and plans to take 10,000 this year in 57 roundups.

Introduced by Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana), the amendment in effect repealed a requirement in effect for 34 years that wild horse adopters had to keep a horse for at least one year before selling the horse to slaughter.

After several adopters were caught selling newly acquired wild horses to slaughter, the U.S. House of Representatives in May 2005 passed a bill to repeal the Burns Amendment as part of an Interior appropriations bill. The repeal had little chance of advancing farther because Burns chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee, and was therefore in a position to ensure that it was not included in the final reconciled versions of the House and Senate bills. The repeal was officially dead on July 28.

More than 1,400 wild horses were sold under the Burns amendment during the first six months of 2005.

Representatives Jon Porter (R-Nevada) and Shelley Berkley (D-Nevada), and Senators Harry Reid and Jon Ensign (both R-Nevada) on June 20 introduced a bill to reduce the minimum horse adoption fee from $125 to just $25, eliminate a limit of four wild horse adoptions per person per year that applies to horses not eligible for sale under the Burns amendment, and would reinstate the one-year waiting period for buyers to receive titles to wild horses acquired via the Burns amendment.

Promoted as another attempt to protect wild horses, the bill would actually expedite the sale of younger and healthier horses to slaughter.

“This is a tremendously misguided measure,” Society for Animal Protective Legislation policy analyst Chris Heyde told Suzanne Struglinski of the Las Vegas Sun.

“These bills would put another 16,000 horses at risk, in a scheme shockingly similar to the disastrous fee waiver scheme of the mid-1980s,” commented Alliance of Wild Horse Advocates cofounder Willis Lamm. “Fee Waiver led to the slaughter of perhaps up to 20,000 wild horses,” Lamm estimated.

“Wild horses have been reduced from more than two million at the turn of the last century to less than 35,000 today, soon to be reduced to only 22,000,” noted Animal Welfare Institute wildlife consultant Andrea Lococo.

That will be a third of the population in 1959, when Nevada secretary Velma Johnston won a ban on shooting wild horses from aircraft, the beginning of federal efforts to “protect” wild horses.