- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Most Americans would sooner starve than eat fillet of horse with cranberry chutney, or however they do it in Europe. It might then come as a surprise that 66,000 horses were slaughtered for consumption in the United States last year, and 20,000 more were exported abroad for the same purposes. Even more so when one considers that nearly none of this horse flesh ends up on American platters — and for that we are thankful.

While cattle and poultry are bred specifically for food, horses are not. Many of those sold to slaughterhouses are privately owned or caught in the wild by the federal Bureau of Land Management, which then tries to find adoptive homes. When it cannot, the horses go to the highest bidder, in this case either to one of the three Belgian- or French- owned plants.

Fortunately, there is growing opposition in Congress to this kind of thing. In June, the House passed by a bipartisan majority an amendment to the agriculture appropriations bill banning the use of federal funds in the slaughtering of horses. The Senate is schedule to vote on the amendment, sponsored by veterinarian Sen. John Ensign, next week. We encourage senators to support this ban.

Certain veterinary groups, rather ironically, oppose the amendment. They claim that it is humane to put aging or neglected horses out of their misery. But if anyone actually saw how these noble beasts are slaughtered — strung up by their hind legs and bled — they might think twice before supporting such conduct. The only problem with attaching the amendment to an appropriations bill is that it will expire next year.

So, Mr. Ensign has also introduced independent legislation that would ban the slaughter of horses entirely. Some critics contend an outright ban is an abuse of congressional power. But Cass Sunstein, the distinguished University of Chicago law professor, conclusively addressed those concerns a few years ago: “A ban on commercial slaughter of horses would be plainly within congressional authority, if accompanied by reasonable findings that such slaughter is often or generally a way of yielding products for interstate or international sale, and therefore has a substantial effect on interstate or international commerce.” Few would argue that it doesn’t.

We admit to a certain sentimentality in our appeal to ban horse slaughter. The horse has always held a hallowed place in our national identity, much like the bald eagle. And just as no American would consider ordering up a bald eagle, if only out of respect, so would none ask for a horse steak.

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