Montana's Cruel Horse Slaughter Law Stumbles

By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Updated on 5/8/09: An earlier version of this post failed to properly attribute the quotation from

To all the good folk of Montana, I want to apologize if I offended anyone by nicknaming the state "Slaughter-tana." That moniker is only meant to apply Montanans who promote horse slaughter, not the majority, to wit, humane residents.

I also want to respond to and thank one of you who e-mailed in this week. But before I do so, I want to share with you some great news about Montana's new horse slaughter bill: court action and lack of planning in the bill itself may prevent its stated goal, to create a horse slaughter industry in Montana, from ever coming to fruition. According to

A new Montana state law invites private investors to develop horse slaughter facilities in that state. But opponents say compliance and court challenges might discourage prospective investors from ever breaking ground on plant projects.

HB 418 insulates plant developers from permit and licensing challenges on environmental and other grounds, and awards attorney and court fees to plaintiffs in cases District Courts deem harassing or without merit. It automatically became law last Friday after Gov. Brian Schweitzer declined to sign or veto it 10 days after it reached his desk ...

Nancy Perry, vice president of Government Affairs for the Humane Society of the United States, said the legislation could be challenged because it removes Montana citizens' right to sue plant developers in state courts.

There are also some concerns with food safety compliance issues. All meat processing plants in the United States are subject to USDA regulation and product inspection, said Amanda Eamich, spokesperson for the agency's Food Inspection Service. But congress previously stripped the USDA's funding for horse processing plant inspections.

"U.S. law prohibits the funding of inspectors for the regulation of horse slaughter," Eamich said. "Without the federal inspections, they couldn't get the meat out of state or out of the country."

Special thanks to the Humane Society, as always, for analyzing the law's legal flaws. And to Congress for stripping funding for horse slaughter plant inspections.

And to Bridget of Mt who commented on my earlier blog, I thank you for sharing your perspective, even if we disagree. You stated:

As of 2008, there were 140,000 horses in Montana and, in this economy, sadly many have no place. Its the hard truth, but avoiding it won't make it go away. I've spoken to veterinarians who witness daily the cruelty of starvation and many support this legislation. Bureau of Land Management officials are reporting an increase in abandoned horses on government lands. None of these are acceptable alternatives, yet cost of disposal limits options and can force bad decisions that create the very kind of abuse and cruelty we hope to avoid.

I understand your position and appreciate the way you present it, but you neglect to note there is a simple solution to the problem of starved and neglected horses: limit breeding. If backyard breeding were banned and breed associations severely limited the number of papers or registrations issued per year, there would be many fewer horses brought into the world. Their prices would rise and people would buy or acquire fewer of them.

Ultimately, I hope society moves to the points where horses and other animals/pets are seen as family members, never to be slaughtered or even euthanized until they are clearly too old and/or sick to recover. I do not share your view that horses are livestock. Nor do I believe slaughter is a humane alternative. If you've ever been in a slaughterhouse, to a slaughter auction or seen a stock trailer full of horses bound for slaughter, I'd be surprised if you sill found slaughter a "humane" alternative to starvation or other forms of cruelty. From my perspective, they should all be outlawed and banned.

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By Bonnie Erbe