07/28/2006 12:00AM

Slaughter bill gets amended


In a largely symbolic move, the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee approved six amendments on Thursday to a bill that seeks to end horse slaughter in the United States for the purposes of human consumption.

The impact of the agriculture committee's action on the bill's chances for passage are unclear. The amendments were designed to make the implementation of a ban on horse slaughter far more difficult than a version that had been discharged on Wednesday from the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The energy committee's version of the bill has been scheduled for a vote on the House floor in early September, while the agriculture committee's version has not been scheduled.

The agriculture committee is chaired by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia who is opposed to the bill. During a hearing on the bill on Thursday, the committee voted 37-3 to report the bill "unfavorably" with the six amendments attached.

Alise Kowalski, a spokesperson for the agriculture committee, said that the action by the committee "put the thumbprint of the agriculture committee on the bill" and "indicated to the rest of Congress the concern the committee has with the legislation."

The agriculture committee's amendments include provisions that would allow the three horse slaughterhouses currently operating in the United States to remain open despite the ban. Other amendments would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to compensate any horse owner for the loss of income that could result from the ban and would require the federal government to care for any unwanted horses.

The original bill would simply ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Under that bill, the three slaughterhouses - two in Texas, one in Illinois - would be forced to close. The Department of Agriculture has estimated that 90,000 horses were slaughtered at the facilities last year.

The original bill is sponsored by Rep. John Sweeney, a Democrat from New York, and has been heavily supported by Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican from Kentucky. A spokesman for Whitfield, Brent Dolen, declined comment on the agriculture committee's action.

The House Rules Committee will now determine how to present the bill for a vote on the floor. The committee could approve amendments to the Sweeney bill that are similar to the amendments offered by the agriculture committee, but those amendments would have to be approved by the House during its consideration of the bill.