BACK TO SQUARE 1: HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE MOVES TO BRING HORSE SLAUGHTER, MUSTANG MASS KILLING PLAN BACK
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BACK TO SQUARE 1: HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE MOVES TO BRING HORSE SLAUGHTER, MUSTANG MASS KILLING PLAN BACK
A lot of people are asking what is happening right now with the horse slaughter issue and what will be of wild horses. Is slaughter now legal? Is it not? Will mustangs be slaughtered to make room for more round ups and more subsidized cattle? Though these questions may appear easy, the fact is we don’t have a clear answer since, even if horses were spared in the last federal budget, things may change really fast. After narrowly escaping domestic slaughter and mass killings in government facilities at the hands of the Bureau of Land Management last March, American horses, domestic and wild alike, are again under fire by powerful lobbies seeking to slaughter and rain death upon them to score a rather silly political point. Last May 24th, the House Appropriations Committee, controlled by Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Chris Stewart (R-UT), Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Mark Amodei (R-NV) and Ken Calvert (R-CA), marked up and passed the FY2019 House Agriculture Appropriations Bill, H.R. 5961, which does not include the long-standing language banning USDA from carrying out mandatory pre-slaughter inspections in horse slaughter plants and that since 2008 prevents them from opening again, after the last ones in Texas and Illinois were closed down by court order the previous year. The final version of the bill that was sent to the House floor to be voted on can be found at https://www.congress.gov/115/bills/hr5961/BILLS-115hr5961rh.pdf. It didn’t matter that, just a couple months ago, Congress decided to shoot down this very same plan after they adopted the Senate version for the current fiscal year’s omnibus appropriations bill, which did include the long-standing funding ban. It didn’t matter that people from all over the country saturated Congress’ switchboard demanding the ban to be kept in place and asking for the passage of a full transport to slaughter ban to end the carnage. It didn’t matter that the meat itself is toxic and won’t be allowed to enter the food chain in the European countries where pro-slaughter lobbyists dream to sell it. It didn’t matter that the industry itself is crumbling and a failure and can only subsist in third-world countries where equine and human life are not worth a dime. And it mattered even less that 80% of Americans oppose it. They had to do it. Only to feed their ego and send yet another rehash of the rather moldy message that eating your companions is somewhat cool. And, of course, that only “industry” is allowed to set policy and, therefore, that anybody else is not a “stakeholder” and cannot participate in the policymaking decisions that impacts our collective lives. Because, who cares about voters or the health of foreign consumers when the game is all about pandering to big lobbies, no matter how silly the items they peddle may be? But this was not unexpected. For the last year and a half we have experienced an unprecedented, relentless attack on the animal welfare standards, environment, most particularly, horses, which is what concerns us here. That people setting policy guidelines are well-known equine slaughter lobbyists, like Ryan Zinkeor Forrest Lucas, is purely a coincidence (tongue in cheek)… Just like last year, chair Frelinghuysen, acting on behalf of congressmen Stewart and Aderholt, decided unilaterally to remove the USDA slaughter defunding provision from the bill draft, despite the fact that it is standard policy to include in the draft to be marked up the language of the previously enacted appropriations bill. No discussion was allowed on the matter; the “horse-hugging” language had to be removed from the beginning because they said so. In fact, the USDA slaughter inspections defunding ban was already removed from the subcommittee draft passed earlier last May 16th. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard attempted to insert the USDA defunding language back during the markup session, but the amendment was defeated with a dubious voice vote (and we can see Mr. Amodei being too quick to call it a “nays have it”) on the questionable grounds that it was emotional and that horse slaughter is “more humane” in the US, despite that it was as badas it is in Mexico or Canada right now and that most of the injuries suffered by slaughter-bound horses take place within US borders. In fact, this “it was best in the US” line stems most out of infantile chauvinism, as the slaughtering methods involved in both US and Mexico are exactly the same. Turning the money making operation of a few people -and the obsession for killing horses of a few others- into a false-flag animal welfare issue was always very productive for the equine slaughter lobby. You can watch the markup session and the defeat of the amendment at https://appropriations.house.gov/calendararchive/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=395294(after the third recess). Rep. Royball-Allard made a tremendous exposition touching the most important facts, which we won’t repeat here, but she didn’t stand a chance against the whims of the agriculture and interior subcommittee chairs, even if their points were rather feeble.
So, what’s the situation now?
Taking into account that the Rules Committee, also stacked against horses, will most likely deny any vote on any floor amendment to insert the defunding language back -as they did last year- this means that, should Congress concur on the House version of the bill, domestic horses are again at risk to be slaughtered within the US and inserted surreptitiously into the food chain as happened for years multiple timesin Europe, as toxic horse meat is cheaperfor food producers than real meat and is comingled to increase their bottom lineat the expense of the health of unaware consumers. We can, in fact, already imagine some sort of front operation funded at a loss by anti-animal misanthropist Forrest Lucas, for the sole purpose of trolling equine advocates. Fortunately for American equines, thanks to the work of Senators Tom Udall and Lindsay Graham the same day the Senate Appropriations Committee passed their own version of the FY2019 agriculture appropriations bill, S. 2976, which includes by default the USDA horse slaughter inspections funding ban that was inherited from the previously enacted appropriations bill. Therefore, this means that we are again back to last year’s game of waiting until each chamber version of the agriculture appropriations bill is reconciled in conference committee or a similar instrument, where all discussions take place at closed door and any side can get the upper hand during the negotiations. Back to square one.
Wild horses again in grave danger
The future may not be as promising for wild horses though. Last March, after a protracted tug-of-war with the House over unrelated policy items, the Senate managed to include in the FY2018 omnibus appropriations bill the language by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico that since 2016 has prevented BLM from killing or selling for slaughter without limitation healthy wild horses under its care pursuant to the Wild, Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. This amendment defeated congressman Chris Stewart’s attempt to implement a mass-killing program for American wild horses (known as the “Stewart amendment”), involving a combination of sales to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico, unregulated giveaways and killing –most likely through shooting- of all wild horses in BLM holding facilities plus those in the wild that are deemed by BLM’s expert cattleman eye, as unadoptable. On May 14th, the House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee, passed their FY2019 Interior appropriations bill draft, which still contains the ban on BLM and its contractors from killing healthy wild horses or selling them for slaughter put in place by the Senate on this fiscal year’s appropriations. However, despite this, wild horses are again in grave danger as they have become the primary target of the slaughter lobby: Rep. Stewart is expected to introduce a tougher, more radical version of his mustang mass slaughter amendment during the full committee markup session that will take place this week. The only reason Stewart’s language was not included directly in the bill draft is because he doesn’t chair the Interior appropriations subcommittee. Angry at Senate overriding his personal project, Stewart managed to tuck into the FY2018 appropriations bill’s explanatory statement an obscure requirement asking BLM to produce within 30 days a “science-based plan” that “simplifies management” and reduces the cost of BLM’s wild horse program, despite the fact that its yearly budget (some 90 million approximately) is less than 0.8% of the overall DOI’s budget and is a paltry compared with the subsidies received by welfare-ranching or other pork-barreling spending items of questionable public usefulness. As a result BLM, which is a captured regulator, produced a deceitful report drawing heavily on the infamous 2017 closed-door Utah’s Mustang Slaughter Summitorganized by a collection of dubious anti-wild horse fronts spun from Forrest Lucas’ think-tank, BLM officials and ranching industry organizations, and which had as star guests Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke and congressmen Chris Stewart and Rob Bishop, who was so ecstatic that even allowed himself some really tastelessjokes. In this report, BLM calls for the elimination of all wild horses in BLM holding facilities and free on the range that are deemed unadoptable, through a combination of shootings (passed on as “euthanasia”), open sales for slaughter in Canada and Mexico, unlimited sale and giveaways, brutal surgical sterilization experiments, and handouts of $1,000 per horse to ranchers taking them, with no accountability of their whereabouts or condition, until population reaches levels prior to the enactment of the Wild, Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act in 1971 (less than 20,000 scattered through 11 states) when Congress recognized wild horses were fast disappearing and deserved protection from killing in order to ensure their survival. Using this rip-off report -which is itself a photocopy of the Slaughter Summit’s agenda, to the point of pasting entire pages- as a justification, Rep. Chris Stewart will introduce his beefed up mustang-killing amendment, essentially dismantling the Wild, Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, during the markup session on the FY2019 Interior appropriations bill, with Calvert using his authority as Interior Subcommittee chairman to pass it with a voice vote. Just like last year, the House Appropriations leadership is so radically stacked against wild horses that any attempt at making a constructive debate or attempt to defeat it in the House is futile. The mustang-killing amendment will be included in this must-pass bill and passed on to the Senate. Similarly, no counter-amendments will be allowed by Rules Committee on the full House floor to restore the original protections that will be deleted by Stewart’s amendment, even if such amendments are fully valid as per House Rules and the committee itself has no problems with actual riders. This dynamic throws us back one year in the past when Stewart passed his original mustang slaughter amendment during the full committee markup, with the lives of approximately 50,000 wild horses (44,000 in holding plus those freshly captured from the range during the course of this year’s roundups) hanging by a thread in the hands of the Senate Appropriations Committee. In essence, the lives of American horses depend now solely on whether Senate Appropriations Committee will include in their own version of the FY2019 Interior budget the language banning BLM from killing wild healthy wild horses and, should the Senate decides to keep the ban currently in place, whether the language survives the closed-door conference committee or similar instrument that will be used to reconcile the different versions of the appropriations bill before it is enacted. We are back to square one. All the hard work of last year is lost.
What can you do
While the USDA slaughter inspections funding ban is not particularly critical, as it is unlikely that any successful commercial horse slaughter operation will set up shop again in the US, the future of wild horses is again at the stake and in a very delicate situation. Urgent action is needed to ensure Stewart’s new mustang-killing amendment is defeated. As indicated previously, it is almost granted that Stewart’s amendment will pass the House and be referred with their version of the bill to the Senate. Therefore, our attention should be turned to the Senate as they right now have the fate of wild horses in their hands. You should contact the members of the Senate Appropriations Committeeand request them to keep in place last fiscal year’s ban on the killing of healthy wild horses at the hands of BLM during their bill’s markup session later on this week. In addition, please contact your own two Senators and Representative and ask them to oppose any language by Stewart removing the existing ban on the killing of healthy wild horses. You can find who your federal legislators are at https://www.contactingcongress.org/. Whatever legit reasons there were in the past for Stewart and Aderholt to introduce the mustang and domestic horse slaughtering amendments respectively, it is becoming evident that this now a personal thing for them, and fact doesn’t matter when things go personal. How many times they will have to be defeated by public opinion to make them desist on this particularly toxic agenda? How many times will wild horses dodge the bullet? Similarly, it is becoming evident that, as long as congressmen Stewart, Aderholt, Calvert and Amodei remain in office, or are in charge of drafting appropriations legislation, we will be facing the same threat over and over again. However, since their districts are composed predominantly of welfare ranching country or otherwise captured voters, it will be nearly impossible to unseat them. Therefore, the only way to minimize this constant threat is by removing them from chairmanship positions controlling the drafting of appropriations legislation by forcing a change in House leadership. Please make sure you take this into account when you cast your ballot next elections. Thank you. by Daniel Cordero Fernandez.