01/29/2016 3:46PM

Hovdey: Without louder voices, SAFE Act passage unlikely

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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’s 2nd District, 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.

Elaine Cummings More than 1 year ago
The ignorance of CONGRESS knows no bounds! As well, the 'YES' from Heyde is wrong, too.  First, to the idiot who asked Heyde, "Is it all being exported?"  Where is HE in the scheme of things?  Does HE not know that toxic horse meat already HAS entered OUR food supply?  Does he NOT know that independent laboratories and universities DID the job that we pay USDA and FDA "to do?" Does he NOT know that tests FOUND toxic horse meat mixed into several fast food 'burger chains in THIS country ... and, that THOSE companies admitted to it? How about the packaged meat at Walmart labeled 100% BEEF that turned out to be horse meat? --- CONGRESS has been sold a bill of goods by lobbyists!  CONGRESS has conveniently done away with 'Country-of-Origin' labels for meat, so we will never know the source of our food.  -- As we speak, American fishermen in the Bering Sea are catching fish and turning it over to CHINA for processing, before it returns HERE to be sold. As we speak, TYSON and others are exporting chicken to CHINA to be "processed" then returned here for sale.  Seriously?  --- FYI:  The 'Horse Slaughter Pipeline' no longer involves JUST exports; rather, we are in danger.  The 'pipeline' is an international syndicated crime operation, NO different than the drug cartels.  These people are laughing!  All the way to the kill-buyer network, to slaughter houses of Canada and Mexico, and to the BANK!  All the while, our elected so-called 'representatives' and senators of CONGRESS are being 'snookered' by the crooks!   Thousands of horses are enduring unspeakable horror and dying slow death while still alive!  Our export product is unsafe for human consumption. Is THIS how we want America to be represented?.  WE had better CARE!  Our domestic food supply now is tainted.  Are YOU 'throwing the dice" with your health or that of your family by visiting 'burger joints?  Remember, WE have never heard that the PROBLEM existed, let alone that it was CORRECTED.  WHY?  The NATIONAL media has declined to discuss this or the inhumane plight of our wild horses at the hands of the very federal agency assigned by 1971 Law to "Protect. and Manage the Free-roaming Wild Horses and Burros of this nation." --- The NATIONAL media got their assignment ... before 1776 ... to Discover, Research, Write, Report for the safety and information of the citizens of this country.  Our NATIONAL media has lost their moral compass, and forgotten their duty as JOURNALISTS.  Why?   The S.A.F.E. Act (HR 1942, S 1214) of this session is held prisoner in a committee where no one wants it to pass; and, last year's version was impeded by former Speaker of the House John Boehner, who vowed to "Never to let THIS bill come to the floor of the House for a vote!"  Two years of the S.A.F.E. ACT held back by special interests, NOT being processed, and of Congress ignoring citizens' wishes.  First, Speaker Boehner forgot "whose HOUSE" it was; now, WHO is leading the 2016 battle to suppress?  --- When you search, look for the MONEY!  ---  I am so ashamed of my own government  it is difficult to move forward; yet, I have been at it for about 50 years (now, age 85) in four different states.  
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
As long as one of their contributor cronies can make a buck at it, don't look to the bought and paid for by special interests "representatives" to do anything. Greed rules.
Sybil Miller More than 1 year ago
and the numbers are available -- they are closer to 150,000, as many as 165,000, per year going to slaughter from the US to Canada, Mexico and Japan.
Sybil Miller More than 1 year ago
Who is the congressman in the last quote?  

Caroline Betts More than 1 year ago
That last post - an important one - regarding the need for a professional lobbyist and a route to getting export to slaughter stopped was penned by Cathleen Doyle, not me. I have posted on her behalf. Cathleen has been unable to sign on here.
Caroline Betts More than 1 year ago
It is hard to believe given the hundreds of millions of dollars raised each year off the Horse Slaughter and Wild Horse issues by the animal groups that a professional lobbyist has never been hired….not in sixteen years. It’s not like they couldn’t have afforded to hire one…or several. This issue could be addressed by dropping a one sentence amendment into an Export Act or omnibus Trade Bill.
Juliette Dauterive More than 1 year ago
I cannot agree with you more. We need equine lobbyists to work SAFE and BLM wild horse mismanagement.
Caroline Betts More than 1 year ago
Amendments to the Appropriations Bill have been the focus of annual activities since 2005. The American Horse Slaughter Act, repeatedly introduced, died multiple times in 2006, in the Senate rather than the House I believe, in 2007, and in/after 2011. The failure to get this done is not simply a function of Congress being exceptionally "lazy" in the past three or four years.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The man says Who cares? CHILDREN could die...fetuses be abort/miscarried from illness and all types of health issues that are not traced to horsemeat can injure or kill and his response was Who Cares???? The man shouldnt be re elected.
Robynne Catheron More than 1 year ago
Thank you, Jay Hovdey for this article, and God bless Chris Heyde for pushing so hard to get the SAFE Act out of committee and to the floor for a vote. Before that happens, though, the bill needs a LOT more co-sponsors. Can we get this to go viral? It's not just the Thoroughbred industry that's at fault, it's also the ever-greedy AQHA and APHA who are huge contributors to the slaughter pipeline. If I had any power, I'd penalize and fine the hell out of any professional breeder who exceeded his allotted number of annual foals, and somehow get those funds fairly distributed to the rescues who are consistently providing care for the slaughter-bound horses. 90% of those horses are between the ages of six and ten years old, and are perfectly sound and healthy. Wake up, America. We're better than this.
Anne Russek More than 1 year ago
Chris Heyde is a remarkable advocate for horses, his plea to the racing industry to step up and more vocally support this bill is long overdue.
Louise Martin More than 1 year ago
Who is the congressman who said who cares? Should not bebprotecting his identity
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
exactly