With­out louder voices, SAFE Act can­not pass

Daily Racing Form National Digital Edition - - News - JAY HOVDEY

It takes a durable, well-de­vel­oped sense of dark hu­mor to be work­ing as an an­i­mal wel­fare lob­by­ist in Wash­ing­ton th­ese days, es­pe­cially if your species of leg­isla­tive pas­sion is the horse.

Chris Heyde of the An­i­mal Wel­fare In­sti­tute has been fight­ing the good fight for horses long enough now to know that great leaps and bounds are made in small in­cre­ments. As AWI deputy di­rec­tor of govern­ment and le­gal affairs, Heyde is the point guard for most of the equine-re­lated is­sues go­ing be­fore Congress, a list that is led by the ef­fort to erad­i­cate the spectre of horse slaugh­ter in the United States once and for all.

At this point, Amer­ica is not a coun­try where there ex­ists the le­gal com­mer­cial slaugh­ter of horses to pro­duce meat for hu­man con­sump­tion. The United States is, how­ever, a vig­or­ous en­abler of the in­ter­na­tional in­dus­try. Es­ti­mates vary, so let’s go low at the fig­ure of 100,000 Amer­i­can horses trans­ported legally across ac­com­mo­dat­ing state bor­ders to slaugh­ter­houses in Canada and Mex­ico, with thou­sands of reg­is­tered Thor­ough­breds among them.

Last April, the Safe­guard Amer­i­can Food Ex­ports (SAFE) Act was in­tro­duced in both the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the Se­nate. The bill would ef­fec­tively ban the sale and trans­port of horses for slaugh­ter in the United States. The bill has the quiet sup­port of most Thor­ough­bred rac­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions, and polls in­di­cate that the Amer­i­can pub­lic is strongly in fa­vor of ban­ning a prac­tice that goes so con­trary to the na­tion’s his­tor­i­cal re­la­tion­ship with horses as com­pan­ions, co-work­ers, and ath­letic per­form­ers.

So where does the bill stand to­day, nine months af­ter its in­tro­duc­tion? “It’s still in com­mit­tee,” said Heyde. Sigh. “A lot of ac­tivists get mad at us not mov­ing the bill,” Heyde said. “Then you step back and look at the big­ger pic­ture. Congress is his­tor­i­cally lazy, but any­one who has been fol­low­ing pol­i­tics knows they have pushed that to new heights over the past three or four years.”

Yet Heyde and his col­leagues sol­dier on, press­ing the is­sue in the halls of Congress. The SAFE Act has 184 co-spon­sors in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives – Rep. Gwen Gra­ham, a Repub­li­can from Florida, signed on just this week – while the cor­re­spond­ing bill in the Se­nate has 29 co-spon­sors.

“That’s what keeps us all go­ing,” Heyde said. “The sup­port for the mea­sure is as strong as ever, and you hear from peo­ple, ‘I can’t be­lieve horse slaugh­ter is still around.’ ”

The num­bers of co-spon­sors can be mean­ing­less if the lead­er­ship of the cham­ber is dead set against a bill mov­ing for­ward. Still, it is help­ful for con­stituents to know where their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives stand.

Both sen­a­tors from New York, New Jersey, Mary­land, and Cal­i­for­nia sup­port the SAFE Act, as does South Carolina’s Lindsey Gra­ham, New Mex­ico’s Tom Udall, and Mark Kirk of Illinois.

Among the sev­eral sen­a­tors cur­rently cam­paign­ing for nom­i­na­tion as pres­i­dent, Bernie San­ders of Ver­mont has signed on as a co-spon­sor, while Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Ru­bio of Florida, and Rand Paul of Ken­tucky have not.

Of course, if there is no political price to pay for lack of sup­port of an is­sue like the slaugh­ter of horses, then the prac­tice will con­tinue to be a part of the cul­tural fab­ric. With­out an out­right ban, Heyde and his leg­isla­tive team have been forced into an an­nual work­around through the ap­pro­pri­a­tions process that es­sen­tially de­funds the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture’s in­spec­tions of horse slaugh­ter­houses.

“That’s where a lot of our en­ergy goes, and that’s not ideal,” Heyde said. “Our op­po­nents will say de­fund­ing in­spec­tions to close do­mes­tic slaugh­ter­houses only makes it worse, be­cause now they all go to Mex­ico or Canada. I’m not sure how much worse that is, since the prac­tice of horse slaugh­ter is pretty hor­ren­dous wher­ever it takes place. It’s like that old joke: I wouldn’t want to get hit with a bat in the back of the head or in the face.” See what I mean about a sense of hu­mor? If Heyde and sup­port­ers of the SAFE Act could wave that magic wand the bill would be out of com­mit­tee and onto the floor of both cham­bers next week. But 2016 is a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion year, and what has been grind­ing slowly over the past four years will pretty much sludge to a halt.

“There have been even fewer days in ses­sion sched­uled for this term than in the past,” Heyde said. “For any­thing to get passed will be dif­fi­cult. Most of our time and en­ergy is spent mak­ing sure the ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill de­funds in­spec­tions.”

Heyde would love to have some­one or some­thing light a fire un­der the Thor­ough­bred in­dus­try and lead­ers step for­ward to run with the cause of ban­ning horse slaugh­ter, rec­og­niz­ing that do­mes­tic horses are not bred or raised to be part of the meat in­dus­try and there­fore should not en­ter that food chain.

“If you don’t care about horse slaugh­ter, you should re­ally care about horses be­com­ing a meat an­i­mal,” Heyde said. “If horse slaugh­ter comes back, it will be­come a heav­ily reg­u­lated meat in­dus­try. The USDA will have to step up its regulation, es­pe­cially on giv­ing horses even the ther­a­peu­tic med­i­ca­tions that are reg­u­lated so heav­ily in meat an­i­mals.

“I ex­plained that to a con­gress­man,” Heyde said. “That pretty much ev­ery do­mes­ti­cated horse has le­gal drugs in them that would ban them from meat con­sump­tion. He said, ‘Is it all be­ing ex­ported?’ I said yes. And he said, ‘Then who cares?’ ”

That’s not funny.

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