Republican Congressman Chris Stewart brought together ranchers, animal-protection advocates and others on Wednesday to brainstorm solutions for protecting wild horses.
Evocative symbols of the American West, wild horses have also become a thorny national political issue that's often left ranchers and animal-protection advocates at odds.
Congress budgeted more than $80 million for the wild horse program last year, but the U.S. Bureau of Land Management overspent that by more than $2 million. Stewart has introduced an amendment to a recently passed House spending bill that gives the BLM more authority and a $15 million funding increase for managing horse populations. The U.S. Senate also included provisions in its version of the Interior Department spending bill that address wild horses.
But the opposing sides agree money alone is not the answer.
"Everyone agrees the problem is untenable the way it is," said Stewart after the closed-door meeting ended Wednesday. "There's wide agreement—I would say 90 percent agreement—on what it's going to take to fix it.
That includes capturing and removing from public land about 90,000 horses so they won't compete with livestock and wildlife for food and water.
Stewart said the solution also means settling on an effective sterilization program that would allow the BLM to remove the ovaries of wild mares. Sterilization would prevent herds remaining on the range from growing fast. The target is to hold herd numbers steady at roughly 27,000 horses.
U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, brought together groups that are typically at odds for a discussion of solutions for the nation’s wild horse program.
Among the groups that attended were:
They asked Stewart to continue the talks.
Nancy Perry, a lobbyist for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the national program for wild horses is at a crossroads.
"That's causing everyone to come together, put aside our differences and ask, 'What can we do together on this issue?'" Perry, who also attended the roundtable, said.
Beaver County Commissioner Tammy Pearson, who is also a rancher, conceded that solving the wild horse problem will take collaboration and time.
"We've had years and years that we've been saying, and begging and pleading to get this done," said Pearson. "And the problems have been that BLM has been restricted in what they can do."
Stewart, who calls himself a horse lover, said no one wants to see the horses, the land and rural Utah communities suffering. In a previous version of his amendment, Stewart gave the BLM authority to euthanize healthy horses in government corrals. But that's no longer part of his proposal.
"This coalition will stay together because we truly love these animals," said Stewart, adding that some wild horses in southern Utah are starving to death. "Most people think that's not a great outcome for them."
The ban on spending taxpayer dollars to inspect Horse Slaughter will remain the law through the end of the fiscal year; September 30, 2015. With President Obama signing the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill, the United States will continue to forbid the domestic slaughter of horses for human consumption.
The language specifically bans the use of federal funding for inspections at such facilities, maintaining the de facto ban on domestic horse slaughter and saving taxpayer dollars, and thwarts efforts in at least three states to start killing horses on U.S. soil for export to foreign nations.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said: “Time and again, the North American horse slaughter industry has proved itself to be reckless when it comes to matters of food safety and animal welfare. Americans do not eat horses, nor do they want them suffering in long-distance transport and in inhumane slaughter plants so they can end up on a foreign dinner plate.”
Earlier this month, the European Commission decided to suspend horsemeat imports from Mexico due to food safety concerns. U.S. horses account for 87 percent of the horses slaughtered in Mexico for export to the EU and are regularly administered drugs and other substances over the course of their lives that are potentially toxic to humans. A recent audit conducted by the EU also noted issues with inhumane treatment of American horses in holding pens on U.S. soil and during transport to slaughter.
The omnibus spending bill included strong fund levels for enforcement of animal welfare and anti-wildlife trafficking programs, as well as helpful provisions to encourage more humane management of wild horses on public lands, development of alternatives to animal testing, and updated regulations on treatment of captive marine mammals. However, it also contained adverse provisions to benefit the gun lobby (restrictions on regulating the lead content of ammunition) and the farm lobby (restrictions on regulating greenhouse gas emissions from CAFOs and overseeing the beef check-off program).
The European Commission has implemented a conditional ban of the import of horsemeat from Mexico following a series of audits by the Food and Veterinary Office.
The audits consistently identified serious problems with the lack of traceability of horses slaughtered for EU export with origins in the United States and Mexico, particularly regarding veterinary medical treatment records. The most recent audit published on 4th December is a damning indictment of the horse slaughter industry and the Mexican authorities’ failure to rectify previously identified problems.
Although the ban has been introduced due to food safety concerns, animal protection group Humane Society International/Europe says the decision could potentially have a positive animal welfare impact in reducing the number of horses suffering in the Mexican slaughter pipeline. Dr. Joanna Swabe, HSI’s European Union executive director, welcomed the decision:
“Banning horsemeat imports from Mexico is long overdue. For years Humane Society International has repeatedly sounded the alarm about horsemeat entering the food chain that does not fully meet EU safety standards. As well as safeguarding EU consumer safety, closing our borders to horsemeat from these countries is important for animal welfare, too. Horse slaughter, regardless of which country it is in, is fraught with inherent cruelty.”
Currently 87 percent of the eligible horses slaughtered in Mexico for meat export to the EU originate from the U.S.; horses are not bred to be eaten in either the U.S. or Mexico. Additionally, the use of veterinary drugs such as phenylbutazone, banned for use in food animals, is widespread; mandatory lifetime medical record-keeping is non-existent in both countries.
As confirmed by the latest audit, the FVO has consistently found questionable the reliability and veracity of vendor statements about U.S. and Mexican horses’ treatment records, meaning such meat entering the EU could contain banned veterinary drugs. The FVO also confirmed HSI’s particular concerns regarding the very poor welfare conditions at export facilities located in the U.S., during transport from the U.S. to Mexico and at the slaughterhouses.
HSI acknowledges that the Commission is at last taking rigorous steps to protect EU consumer safety, but would like to see a moratorium covering Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay where similar traceability problems with horsemeat exports persist.
Source: Humane Society International
HSI’s EU Executive Director Dr. Joanna Swabe is available for interview and comment by contacting:
Raul Arce-Contreras, firstname.lastname@example.org +1 301.721.6440