07/25/2006 12:00AM

Slaughter debate in House

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Supporters and opponents of legislation that would ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption appeared before a committee of the House of Representatives on Tuesday afternoon in Washington, D.C., to debate the merits of the bill.

The legislation, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican from Kentucky, and Rep. John Sweeney, a Democrat from New York, would put out of business the three slaughterhouses in the United States that process horseflesh for overseas consumption. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 90,000 horses, approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population, were slaughtered at the three facilities last year.

Tuesday's hearing was overseen by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

During the hearing, supporters of the bill contended, in part, that horses form an integral part of the U.S. heritage and should be protected from slaughter for human consumption. The vast majority of horse meat is consumed in France, Belgium, and Japan. Supporters also claimed that the method used to slaughter horses, using a captive-bolt gun, was inhumane, and that slaughterhouses routinely kill stolen horses.

Opponents claimed that a prohibition on slaughter would lead to an increase in the population of malnourished and mistreated horses. Opponents also argued that a ban would violate horse owners' property rights.

Most horse associations oppose the bill, including the largest in the nation, the American Quarter Horse Association, and the two largest horse veterinary associations. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association supports the legislation.