State concerned with cruelty to horses taken for slaughter
LANCASTER INTELLIGENCER JOURNAL
Friday, June 26, 1998
By Gil Delaney
Intelligencer Journal Staff
GETTYSBURG_ The horses have committed no crime, beyond being unwanted by their previous owners, but their final journey to the slaughterhouse is often a cruel and brutal ordeal, a state House committee was told Thursday.
Animal-rights activists, a New York State police trooper and a veterinarian said horses purchased in Pennsylvania, frequently at the New Holland Sales Stables, are being transported to Canadian and Texas slaughterhouses in cramped trailers designed to haul smaller animals.
The witnesses urged lawmakers to strengthen state law regulating the transport of horses.
The bill would establish standards for ventilation and interior height of the trailer, and require non-slip flooring, stalls, segregation of animals by breed and gender, pre-transport veterinary certification and regular feeding, watering and rest periods while en route.
"Horses of all ages, breeds and sexes are transported together with no food, water or rest to Canada or Texas, journeys of 550 miles and 1,500 miles, respectively,"
Christine Berry, director of the Equine Placement Network in Friedensburg, said during a House Judiciary Committee hearing.
Horses are often crammed into trailers designed for cattle and hogs and transported across the country where they are slain for food, she and others testified.
"This is a criminal element we're talking about,"
horse enthusiast Linda Adkins told the panel.
"Legitimate horsemen aren't doing this."
She showed the panel photos of horses in a trailer with markings to show how horses would be forced to crouch to fit in the double deck transports the activists want to ban.
The state Agriculture Department licenses horse dealers to ensure that their rigs are sanitary and prevent the spread of disease. The department refers complaints about the way horses are treated to humane societies around the state.
Activists and lawmakers alike agreed that current Pennsylvania law is too vague and rarely enforced. That was a question raised repeatedly by Rep. Jere W. Schuler, a West Lampeter Township Republican, who is the only Lancaster County lawmaker on the judiciary panel.
"I don't think this bill as now written would pass,"
"We have some enforcement problems here. We have to look at what are the laws dealing with cruelty to animals and are they being enforced."
Schuler said there appears to be "a legitimate argument" for mandating higher ceilings in horse transport trailers, and stiffer penalties may be needed "if they are breaking the law knowing the fine is so minimal that it really doesn't have an effect."
"I personally think the double-stack trailer being used to convey horses ... has to be changed,"
Schuler said. He added,
"I would have liked to have heard from some of the people who are involved in the actual sale of these animals, but we didn't have that."
Horse trading is big business. In some parts of the world, horseflesh is considered a delicacy. Animal-rights activists testified that horses purchased for $150 are sold to slaughterhouses for between $800 and $1,000 each, an incentive for unscrupulous dealers to transport as many horses as possible to slaughterhouses across state lines.
Nationally, more than 100,000 horses are killed each year in the country's six horse-slaughter houses in Connecticut, Texas, Illinois and Nebraska. The plants send more than 20 tons of meat to countries including Belgium, France, Mexico and Japan.
Combined with the heat and uncomfortably close quarters within the trailers, horses often kick their stalls, injuring and sometimes killing each other.
"When you see ponies with their eyes hanging out, you know they've been kicked around,"
said Veterinarian Robert Lopez, past president of the New York State Veterinarian Society.
Rep. Jim Lynch, R-Warren, prime sponsor of the bill said he doesn't expect his proposal to pass this session, and he said the testimony Thursday showed a need for changing it so that the rules govern the transport of all horses, not just those bound for the slaughterhouse.
During the hearing, Lopez and New York State Trooper Thomas Garcia testified that they've witnessed horse trailers designed to carry 50 horses crammed with 70 or 80.
Garcia said he has made more than 200 arrests in 14 years and charged drivers on New York highways with transporting horses illegally. He said many of the horses came from a horse auction in New Holland, Lancaster County.
But in an interview after he testified, Garcia said it wasn't clear how many arrests involved horses purchased at New Holland because the haulers frequently make stops at other auctions and at their own farms in New Jersey or New York before they begin the trip to the Canadian slaughterhouse.
One activist called the New Holland Sales Stables, Inc., "the largest weekly horse slaughter sale east of the Mississippi." She said 250 to 300 horses are sold each week, but not all those horses are destined for the slaughterhouse.
No one from the New Holland Sales Stables was invited to testify at Thursday's hearing.
In a telephone interview, David Kolb, vice president of the New Holland auction, said, "We really don't have much control over (who buys the horses and what they are ultimately used for). We just sell horses on commission. The horses sold here, we don't own."
Kolb said he didn't feel slighted at not having been asked to testify because
"any rules or regulations on the transportation (before or after the sale) would not affect our business whatsoever."
Lynch, the bill's sponsor, said he wasn't sure that the New Holland auction was an integral part of the problem. "I've been down there twice, and there were some things down there that probably were awry, but I think the big problem is with transportation, and that's what my legislation deals with."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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