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Overview of the American Equine Summit

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Issues and initiatives covered at the 2012 American Equine Summit this past weekend at a horse welfare education center in Chatham, NY, ranged from developing a tactical agenda to persuading Congress to pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, to Paula Bacon's recounting of her successful effort to shut down the Dallas Crown horse slaughterhouse when she was mayor of Kaufman, Texas. Over 100 horse advocates convened, coming from as far as California and Texas, to as close as the next hamlet over.

The stories -- most had heard similar before -- were accompanied by documenting photographs and videos. In a single photograph or video, the claim that captive-bolt horse slaughter is humane is refuted. In fact, the most conclusive photos (please heed warnings, photos and videos are graphic) were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and were taken at American slaughterhouses prior to their closure in 2007. (Federal legislation was passed and signed in November 2011 that enables the reopening of horse slaughterhouses in the United States.)

Much time during the two days was spent examining the allegations of horse slaughter proponents -- that the conditions for horses in America have declined since domestic slaughter was banned, because a surplus of horses has resulted, they claim. In fact, roughly the same number of horses have been exported annually to Canada and Mexico for slaughter that were being slaughtered prior to the shutdown of domestic slaughterhouses. Unfortunately for American, Canadian and Mexican horses, the big-ag industries of horse slaughter in Canada and Mexico are as inhumane as in the U.S..

Data Source: USDA

2012-04-04-USEquinesSlaughteredbyCountry19892010.jpg

Graphic used with permission of John Holland, Equine Welfare Alliance

John Holland of the Equine Welfare Alliance, using public data, plotted the number of horses going to slaughter (spanning years including both domestic and cross-border), reported cases of horse abuse and the unemployment rate. Looking at the following chart, the relationship between horse abuse and unemployment in this snapshot of the American heartland of Illinois is clear.

2012-04-04-AbusevsUnemploymentinIllinois1.jpg

Graphic used with permission of John Holland, Equine Welfare Alliance

Paula Bacon, the fifth-generation, former mayor of Kaufman, TX, where Dallas Crown operated for over 20 years, outlined the harm that the slaughterhouse inflicted upon her community, including serial environmental violations, litigiousness, no overall contribution to the tax-base and a booming crime rate. In 2006, when the Dallas Crown slaughterhouse was in full swing the crime rate was 331.8 per 100,000 residents, in 2007 when the plant shut down the rate was 314.6, in 2008 with no slaughterhouse operating in the community, the rate was 173.3; the crime rate has decreased slightly since then.

2012-04-04-CrimeinKaufmanvsAverage.jpg

Graphic used with permission of John Holland, Equine Welfare Alliance

Rock impresario and Live Nation chief Ron Delsener and former Congressman John Sweeney called the assembled group to take the issue to Congress in an organized and funded manner. Just like the "Big Ag" backed opposition to the federal ban of horse slaughter, a constant presence in the halls of Congress will eventually bring the slaughter prevention legislation to a vote in both houses.

The front man for the pro-slaughter lobby is 70-year-old, former Texas Congressman Charles Stenholm, who is now a Senior Policy Advisor at the Washington D.C. lobbying and law firm Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC, that describes its sphere of influence, "At OFW Law, we have daily contact with agencies throughout the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Our attorneys and Senior Policy Advisors have worked with officials in, and have themselves served at, the highest levels of the Department."

Talking about his work in returning domestic horse slaughter, Stenholm was quoted on April 2, 2012, at length in the Abilene Reporter News, outlining that he is "currently working with the Appropriations Committee to make sure they keep a rider off new farm policy..."

To counter the entrenched relationships that Stenholm and his ilk access in Congress, participants at the American Equine Summit agreed that there are challenges ahead. On their side is the knowledge that a recent independent poll confirmed that the majority of Americans are against the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

A February 2012 statement from the ASPCA says:

The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) today announced in a newly released poll conducted by Lake Research Partners that 80 percent of American voters are opposed to the slaughter of U.S. horses for human consumption. The nationwide survey reveals that Americans oppose horse slaughter overwhelmingly regardless of their gender, political affiliation, whether they live in an urban or rural area, or their geographic location. Further, it confirms that a vast majority of horse owners are also against the slaughtering of our nation's equines.

Now, the challenge is to induce Congress to listen to the will of its constituents, rather than the dulcet tones of agri-industry contributors loosening the purse strings of their campaign coffers.

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