- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

Of all the unnecessary pork stuffed into this holiday season’s bloated Omnibus Appropriations Bill, none strikes us as more deserving of an early grave than Sen. Conrad Burns’ horse-slaughter amendment. The Montana Republican managed to sneak in this bad bit of pork that would effectively dismantle the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. As Christopher J. Heyde wrote Friday on our Op-Ed page, Mr. Burns’ amendment would “undermine the law by permitting so-called ‘excess’ horses and burros to be sold at auction ‘without limitation.’ ” In other words, it would be open season on wild horses to be caught, slaughtered and sold to countries — which shall remain nameless — for consumption.

Normally, this page doesn’t have much sympathy for the animal-rights lobby, headlined by such activists as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. We just happen to agree with the language of the 1971 law which states that “wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.” Americans have never much taken to the idea of eating horse flesh, perhaps because horses command such an endearing image in our collective memory. It should not be the federal government’s prerogative to condone their wanton slaughter.

Admittedly, delivering horse flesh to European tables isn’t really Mr. Burns’ intention. The amendment is necessary, Mr. Burns argues, because the alternative of holding “excess” horses in pens is too costly to the federal government. Only in an appropriations bill can a senator cite fiscal responsibility to defend his particular style of pork. Mr. Burns also says that the wild horse population is running rampant and damaging expensive grazing land. If population control is truly Mr. Burns’ motivation, there are better ways to go about it, as Mr. Heyde outlined in his Op-Ed. Yet a GAO report found that there is little evidence to suggest that horses are responsible for land damage. Instead, the GAO found, land damage is more often caused by overgrazing of cattle. And we’ll mention that the cattle industry would stand to gain handsomely should the thousands of wild horses simply disappear from fertile public land.

Before allowing Mr. Burns’ amendment to stand, perhaps Congress should also consider a resolution it passed barely two weeks ago designating Dec. 13 as the National Day of the Horse. The resolution provides that the horse “is a living link to the history of the United States,” and that “horses are a vital part of the collective experience of the United States and deserve protection and compassion.” Indeed.

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