Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Will the State Horse Slaughter Bill Make it Out of Committee This Year?

Empire Farm & Dairy


In May 2013, about 30 horses on the  way to a slaughterhouse in Quebec died in a horrific blaze when the transport truck they were in caught fire on Interstate 81 north of Binghamton.

A bill to prevent this from happening again has been introduced in the New York state legislature for a number of consecutive sessions and will be introduced again this spring, said a spokesman with Senate bill sponsor Sen. Kathleen Marchione , R-Saratoga County.

Bos at his new home in Homer. Photo from Mary Minkoff
The bill has been sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, D-Manhattan.

The bill calls for prohibiting the slaughter of horses for human consumption and the transport of horses for slaughter for human consumption in New York state.

Right now, horses are not slaughtered for human consumption in New York, according to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets. But there are such slaughterhouses in Quebec, so trailers filled with animals do travel through New York state north on Interstate 81 and the Adirondack Northway (Interstate 87) from points in the United States.

The bill was sponsored last session by Glick and Marchione. It was sent to the agriculture committees in both the state Assembly and the state Senate but did not move from there.

In fact, the bill has been around since 2007, but never makes it out of the agriculture committees in the Assembly or Senate. To become law, it would have to be approved in committee, go to a vote by the full Legislature and then be signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“Assemblywoman Glick is very committed to this bill,” said Charles LeDuc, Glick’s legislative analyst. He said the problem deals with wording in the bill.

“She cares deeply about this issue and will continue to work with the chair of the committee,” LeDuc said. “It all comes down to the wording in the bill.”

“Sen. Marchione believes that New York’s horses are majestic, beautiful animals that deserve protection from inhumane treatment and slaughter,” said Joshua Fitzpatrick, speaking for Marchione. “This bipartisan legislation continues to work its way through the legislative process.”

Assemblyman William Magee, D-Nelson, Madison County, chair of the Assembly agriculture committee, said he didn’t hear much from constituents concerning the bill when it was first introduced. It was amended last year to beef up the enforcement part of the bill and was reintroduced this year, and will be discussed by the committee this session.

Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Glenville, Saratoga County, has been a co-sponsor of the bill each time it has been introduced and continues to back it.

Tedisco called the slaughter of horses animal abuse and said it is a bridge crime to more heinous actions, such as the assault or killing of people. He also called horses noble “creatures of God” that “built this nation, built the Erie Canal and worked the farms” that made the U.S. and New York grow into what they are today.

Bos before being rehabilitated at Sunshine Horses
Bos is one of those “noble creatures” of which Tedisco speaks, says Mary Minkoff, vice president of Sunshine Horses, a rescue organization outside of Central Square, Oswego County.

Minkoff found Bos — a 15-year-old Standardbred — at a kill pen in Pennsylvania in 2013. He had been a champion harness race horse, bringing in about $200,000 in winnings for his owner.

But when he couldn’t race anymore, he was sold to some Amish farmers. He pulled carriages.
“This is a hard life for these horses,” Minkoff said.

She said Bos was worked quite hard and then auctioned off again when he couldn’t pull his load.
He ended up in the kill pen, where he was rescued by Minkoff.

“He came to us in April 2013 and he was quite ill,” Minkoff said. “He had a respiratory illness and had to be in quarantine.”

Today, Bos is thriving. He was nursed back to health and lived for a while with other horses at Sunshine Horses stables, enjoying the outdoors, the camaraderie  of other equine and, life in general. He’s inquisitive and is always the first to come check out a new person at the fence.

“He’s a funny boy,” Minkoff said.

He has recently been adopted by the Laughlin family in Homer, Cortland County.
Minkoff thinks the state’s slaughter bill is a good idea, although she said “enforcing it is probably going to be a problem.” She thinks more could be done if a federal bill was passed.

There is a federal bill called the Safeguard American Food Exports, or SAFE, which is in committee in both the House of Representatives and Senate. The bill states it would “prevent human health threats posed by the consumption of equines raised in the United States.”

“We have to stop the transport of horses over borders,” Minkoff said. “People need to be educated about horse slaughter. About 100,000 horses are slaughtered each year over the border.”

The federal bill keys in on the health problems that can arise from eating horse meat and prohibits the “sale or transport of equines or equine parts in interstate or foreign commerce for purposes of human consumption.”

New York Assemblyman Tedisco also is concerned about horse meat from other countries (possibly those slaughtered in Canada) making it into U.S. food.

“It is dangerous to people’s health,” he said. “There are a lot of drugs (used in horses) that can cause harm to people or even kill a baby in a woman’s womb.”

Some of the drugs listed in the federal bill are phenylbutazone, acepromazine, boldenone undecylenate, omeprazole, ketoprofen, xylazine, hyaluronic acid, nitrofurazone, polysulfated glycosaminoglycan, clenbuterol, tolazoline, and ponazuril, all of which are prohibited in meat used for human consumption.

Jack Knowlton is operating manager at Sackatoga Stable in Saratoga Springs and was the race manager for 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide. Funny Cide was the first gelding to win the Derby in nearly 75 years and the first New York-bred horse to win the Run for the Roses.

Knowlton has long been an advocate against equine abuse and slaughter and even has been honored for his work by various horse groups. He agrees the state bill would be difficult to enforce. But the bill should be pressed through, he said.

“I think the fact is at least getting a state bill passed is important — let’s get the state of New York on record,” he said. “We should say ‘this is not lawful. We do not want this in our state.’ ”

There used to be horse slaughter plants in the United States, but the last one closed in 2007 in Illinois. Since then, some states have tried to open plants again, but have not been successful, Knowlton said.

Knowlton discussed the fire on Interstate 81 that killed the horses en route to Quebec.

“Without an outlet in the United States, they have to take them elsewhere,” Knowlton said. “We don’t want to be the gateway for horses going to Quebec. It would be my thought that we could get them at the border — find out where the horses in the trailers are going and why.”

Some people believe the reason the bill doesn’t go anywhere in New York is because of lobbying by New York Farm Bureau. A Farm Bureau official said the state’s largest agriculture organization opposes the horse slaughter bill.

“This is an issue of compassion for anyone concerned about the overpopulation of unwanted horses in New York state and across the country,” said Jeff Williams, New York Farm bureau public policy director. “It is important to have a properly regulated alternative to deal with unwanted livestock, as opposed to neglect or the animals being turned loose.”

Farm Bureau also believes horses are livestock and not pets and therefore should be treated differently than dogs or cats.

State Sens. Patricia Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, chair of the Senate agriculture committee, and Marchione, R-Halfmoon, Saratoga County, would not comment on why the bill hasn’t moved out of the Senate agriculture committee for many years.

Assemblyman Magee, chair of the Assembly agriculture committee, said nothing about the Farm Bureau holding the bill up and instead, mentioned the amendment made to the bill last session, adding the bill should be taken up by the committee this session.

Minkoff said Farm Bureau should not worry about  maintaining slaughter as an option for disposing of unwanted horses.

“There are many other ways to deal with the horse population than slaughter,” she said. She said Sunshine Horses is trying to seek its sanctuary certification so it can take in and care for more unwanted horses.

“They should be able to go to a sanctuary and live out their lives with dignity,” she said. “There is no reason why they have to go to slaughter.” 

Many news outlets, including ESPN and the New York Times, reported that 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand apparently died in a Japanese slaughterhouse in 2002, where his meat was used either in pet food or steaks for human consumption. His story often comes up during discussion of New York’s anti-slaughter bill.

There have been a number of protests outside the horse slaughter plant in Massueville, Quebec and a bill was introduced in Canada’s Parliament in 2010 to stop horse slaughter in that country. But it did not become law.

The New York Times in 2009 published commentaries both pro and con horse slaughtering. Those in favor of slaughter said there has to be an option for horse owners who need to rid themselves of expensive, old or infirmed horses. Those against horse slaughter believe there should be a more humane end for these beasts.

“These horses have been good companions and show horses for years,” said Minkoff, who called the slaughter process barbaric. “They deserve a lot better.”

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