State, federal equine slaughter bills attract interest
GLENDIVE - A bill related to horse slaughter was heard by a packed house in the state legislature last week and Rep. Dennis Getz said it seems to have widespread support.
“My general impression is that it will pass the house,” he said. “I will vote for the bill.”
House Bill 418 was heard by the state Agriculture Committee Feb. 12, and Getz said discussion lasted well into the night.
It is expected to be heard on the floor in early April.
The legislation would authorize investor-owned equine slaughter and processing facilities in Montana and is aimed at assuaging the fears of nervous potential investors amidst national debate regarding such facilities.
The last known equine slaughterhouse in the country was shut down in Illinois in 2007, and since then, federal legislation has been introduced that would make it illegal to transport a horse to slaughter for the purpose of human consumption.
Right now, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act has more than 80 co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives.
However, Ric Holden, former chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he hopes lawmakers will see the need for horse slaughter and processing facilities.
“It is quite natural that some animals will need to be culled from the U.S. herd as time passes along,” he said.
“As horses get older, their feet go bad and they can’t be ridden. Some horses can’t be broke. There are a lot of reasons why a horse wouldn’t be usable. Some just have to be slaughtered.”
Right now, he said, those involved in agriculture production are facing unnecessary expenses from the lack of availability of equine slaughter facilities. They either have to pay to hold the animals or ship them to Canada for slaughter.
Holden, who raises sheep and cattle in Dawson County, said he does not have a personal economic stake in equine slaughter, but believes that Montana has an opportunity to enter a niche market in the U.S.
If the legislature passes HB 418, it would pave the way for new development in the state for slaughter and processing, which Holden said could create good-paying jobs for Montanans.
Equine materials are used in products such as dog or cat food, but Holden said it also is sold to zoos for animal consumption.
Also, he said, while human consumption of equine meat is taboo to Americans, there is a foreign market in countries such as France.
“This would be a good opportunity for Montana and Glendive specifically to work on getting one of those facilities placed here,” Holden said. “I know it would be a tremendous boost for our economy.”
Dawson County Commissioners Adam Gartner and Jim Skillestad said they support the Montana bill, not only because a lack of slaughter facilities increases horse abandonment issues that are costly to taxpayers but also because they believe it is more inhumane to allow an animal to suffer than take it to slaughter.
“To eliminate slaughterhouses is inhumane,” Gartner said.
“To watch a horse suffer, it’s just so sad,” Skillestad added.
In a letter to the Montana State legislature, the commissioners made their case for supporting HB 418, stating that horses are considered livestock, not pets and therefore are personal property of producers.
“As long as private property is treated humanely, the government cannot tell someone what to do with it,” they said.
The commissioners’ letter further states that “lower level” horses have no economic value.
“(At) no time in American history has livestock in the United States been so reduced to such a worthless commodity,” they said.
The commissioners urged legislators to “put common sense back into the horse industry” and support HB 418.
“Animal rights activists have spread a lot of misinformation on the horse slaughter situation across the United States,” they said. “The closure of horse slaughter plants ... has resulted in a large number of unwanted horses.
“Our goal is to obtain a long-term solution which is something our opponents did not facilitate when the plants were closed.”
Neighboring states also are looking at the equine slaughter issue. North Dakota lawmakers are considering a bill that would fund a feasibility study to examine the possibility of opening a horse slaughter facility and in Wyoming, members of the state house of representatives have drafted a measure asking Congress not to interfere with the shipment or slaughter of horses.