The House brushed aside objections from horse doctors and the White House and voted Thursday to outlaw slaughtering horses for meat.
Critics of the practice made an emotional appeal, showing
photographs of horses with bloodied and lacerated faces, the result
of being crammed into trailers destined for slaughterhouses.
Celebrities also turned up the pressure: Actress Bo Derek was on
hand for Thursday's 263-146 vote, and country singer Willie Nelson
and oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens have been campaigning against horse
The ban was backed by all three members of the delegation from
Nevada, home to about half of the 32,000 wild horses that roam the
Lawmakers thought they had ended the practice with a vote last
But instead of banning it outright, Congress yanked the salaries
and expenses of federal inspectors. In response, the Bush
administration simply started charging plants for inspections, and
the slaughter continued.
"It is one of the most inhumane, brutal, shady practices going
on in the U.S. today," said Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., a sponsor
of the ban.
Sweeney argued that the slaughter of horses is different from
the slaughter of cattle and chickens because horses, such as Mr.
Ed, Secretariat and Silver, are American icons.
"They're as close to human as any animal you can get," said
Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C.
Added Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.: "The way a society
treats its animals, particularly horses, speaks to the core values
and morals of its citizens."
The bill's future is uncertain. The Senate has not acted on a
similar bill, and Congress intends to finish its session by the end
of the month.
The administration contends a ban would do more harm than good
"We have serious concerns that the welfare of these horses
would be negatively impacted by a ban on slaughter," Agriculture
Secretary Mike Johanns said in a letter released Thursday.
American horse meat is sold mostly in Europe and Asia; some goes
to U.S. zoos.
Defenders of horse slaughter said it offers a cheap and humane
way to end a horse's life when the animal no longer is useful. They
say many owners cannot afford to care for an unproductive horse.
"These unwanted horses are often sick, unfit or problem
animals," said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. "Many of them are
already living in pain or discomfort, and tens of thousands more
could be neglected, starved or abandoned if their owners no longer
have processing available as an end-of-life option."
Supporters said a U.S. ban would likely send horses to Canada
and Mexico for slaughter. Unlike other countries, U.S. law requires
that horses and other livestock be unable to feel pain before they
"These facilities provide a humane alternative to additional
suffering or possible dangerous situations," said GOP Rep. Bob
Goodlatte of Virginia, the chairman of the House Agriculture
Horses are slaughtered at three foreign-owned plants - two in
Texas and one in Illinois. In all, about 88,000 horses, mules and
other equines were slaughtered last year, according to the
The administration had the backing of the American Veterinary
Medical Association and the American Association of Equine
Practitioners, the biggest horse doctors' group. The American
Quarter Horse Association also supports the practice.
Opponents had the backing of the National Thoroughbred Racing
Association as well as the Humane Society of the United States.