Horse Slaughter Outlawed in New Jersey

September 25, 2012

New Jersey governor Chris Christie signed into law last week a ban on horse slaughter in the state.

“This bipartisan measure is a nod to our decency and respect for horses in our state, ensuring that no horse is slaughtered in New Jersey for human consumption,” Christie said.

You can read the whole story here.

Christie is the champion of smaller government and getting government off our backs, yet he felt the need to impose a governmental ban on something that isn’t even happening in New Jersey.  Perhaps a ban on pandering would be more helpful.



Coggins Required in All State/National Parks

March 7, 2011

February 15, 2011

Contact:  Elaine Lidholm, 804.786.7686

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) announced today that effective March 2, 2011, an updated regulation will take effect regarding the Coggins test for equine infectious anemia. The updated regulation specifies that “all horses assembled at a show, fair, race meet or other such function or participating in any activity on properties where horses belonging to different owners may come into contact with each other in Virginia must be accompanied by a report of an official negative test for equine infectious anemia.” For years horse owners have been required to have a valid Coggins test when horses are assembled, and the updated regulation clarifies this. Assembly of horses for a trail ride on public property such as a state park is an example of an activity requiring horse owners to have a valid Coggins report with them.

Starting March 2, rangers in state and national parks may check for Coggins papers, and owners without valid test reports could be charged with a Class I Misdemeanor and asked to leave the park. As is currently the case under existing regulations, owners presenting fraudulent paperwork can be charged with civil penalties as well.

“Equine Infectious Anemia is a serious disease,” said Dr. Richard Wilkes, VDACS State Veterinarian. “It affects all members of the equine species and is found in nearly every country of the world. All infected horses, even those that are asymptomatic, become carriers and are infectious for life. Infected animals must either be destroyed or remain permanently isolated from other equines to prevent transmission. The change in regulation is not drastic, but it is important and horse owners need to take seriously the need for a valid Coggins test each year prior to any assemblage with other equines.” Wilkes says that horse owners may get a Coggins test by contacting their local large animal veterinarian. They routinely pull blood samples and submit them for Coggins testing.

For more information, horse owners should contact their veterinarian or VDACS’ Office of Veterinary Services at 804.786.2483.


The Pro-Slaughter Push Back

May 6, 2009

As the anti-horse slaughter forces push their agenda to outlaw horse processing nationwide, the pro-slaughter forces are pushing back.

Montana just instituted a horse slaughter law that gives unprecedented protection to prospective developers of horse processing facilities in the Big Sky state.

Horse slaughter has always been legal in Montana, but state representative Ed Butcher (“Mr. Ed Butcher” is, I swear, his real name) introduced House Bill 418 to give special protection to any privately owned horse processing facility.  The bill became law on May 1, 2009, and insulates processing plant developers from licensing and permit challenges based on environmental and other grounds.  It also awards attorney and court fees to the developer in cases brought against them where the district courts deem the case harassing or without merit.

The bill is obviously intended to thwart attempts by anti-slaughter forces to tie-up processing plant applications and keep the developers in court.  And it may work.

This may be just the tip of a backlash iceberg created as a result of rural communities responding to the anti-slaughter efforts to make horse slaughter illegal nationally.

“People in rural areas really got behind this legislation,” Butcher said.

Other states, including Missouri, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming have all taken some action to resist a broad, national ban on horse slaughter.  The Missouri Equine Council ( publicly supports Montana’s HB 418 and most of the other state’s efforts to keep horse slaughter legal.

As with many battles that pit emotion against perceived rights, this fight becomes less and less about horses, and more about cultural values.

Only when the pro- and anti-slaughter forces put aside emotional rhetoric and intransigent arguments and work toward rational compromise, will the horses actually win.


Good Intentions; Static Arguments

April 21, 2009

Rhetoric over reason seems to be guiding the horse slaughter debate.  While both sides ramp-up their efforts to influence the future of horse slaughter, neither is addressing the primary concerns of the other.

North Dakota’s state legislature passed H.B. 1496 last month authorizing $50,000 to the state department of commerce to conduct an equine processing facility feasibility study.

Last month, leaders from five Native American tribes sent a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs expressing concern for the growing population of wild horses in their territories.  According to the letter, horse herds have a significant, negative impact on crops, medicinal plants, forage plants and other natural resources.  As a result, tribal leaders are discussing the possibility of opening processing facilities for horses and other livestock.

Yet, despite all the pro-slaughter arguments, no one seems willing to address the anti-slaughter forces’ primary concern: the inhumane treatment of horses sent to slaughter.

Horses, whether wild or captive bred, lead a lifestyle completely different from cattle, sheep and goats.  As long as pro-slaughter forces ignore the way horses are rounded up, transported and slaughtered, anti-slaughter forces will fight them relentlessly.

And there ARE alternatives to current slaughtering methods.  One woman, Temple Grandin, has a successful business advising processing facilities how to be humane in their methods.  Grandin is, by many standards, a fringe character to be sure, but if you listen to her interview on National Public Radio, you will find that she makes a lot of good points about humane slaughter.

Like the pro-slaughter activists, anti-slaughter forces are no more willing to take a step back from some of their entrenched positions.  No matter how many times they say there are no unwanted horses, there really are.  Sticking your head in the sand isn’t an argument.

Anti-slaughter forces also refuse to accept the economics of horse ownership for many in rural areas of the country.  In rural Virginia, one vet charges $310 to euthanize and dispose of a horse.  If the vet comes to you, it’s $230 for a farm call and euthanasia, provided you have the heavy equipment and land to bury the horse yourself.

Either option is a lot of money for someone having trouble making their mortgage payments.  Anti-slaughter forces aren’t addressing this issue; they just say it’s not a problem.  But it is.

Watching horses being slaughtered is very hard, and virtually intolerable if they’re being killed in Mexico.  It’s worth wondering if the 98,363 horses hauled out of this country for slaughter last year would actually face less trauma and torture if they were slaughtered in the U.S. under strict humane standards.

Eventually, one side in the horse slaughter battle will win.  Let’s hope the two sides will work for a compromise so the winner will actually be the horses.


NAIS: Bogeyman or Bothersome Inevitability

April 17, 2009

Few things elicit ire from the horse community like the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).  There are quite a few e-mails on the topic being tossed about in equine forums.  Many are intemperate screeds which use inflammatory language and disinformation to scare horse owners.

This is a short brief to hopefully separate a few facts from fiction.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture: “The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is a modern, streamlined information system that helps producers and animal health officials respond quickly and effectively to animal disease events in the United States.”

NAIS applies to cattle, goats, poultry, cervids (deer and elk), swine, equines, sheep and camelids.  It comprises three levels of participation: premises registration, animal identification and animal tracking.  Nationally, NAIS is completely voluntary, and as of 4-5-09, 510,750 premises were registered.

In Virginia, NAIS is also voluntary, and 9,355 out of an estimated 37,673 premises have been registered.

The USDA specifically states that every animal movement does not need to be recorded, and lists exceptions to equine activities like local trail rides, small local parades and fairs.

Many of the circulating e-mails are interspersed with facts, but use hyperbole and rumor to justify their anti-NAIS position.  And when e-mail writers start bellowing that a 10-year-old wielding Google Earth can accomplish what the USDA hopes to accomplish with premises identification, you know you’re reading an emotional diatribe, not a rational argument.  Just because someone has professional designation (DVM, MD, etc.) doesn’t mean they’re unbiased or gifted in logic.

Some of the anti-NAIS hysteria is focused on U.S. obligations to the World Trade Organization.  Agricultural trade agreements with the WTO include the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) which promulgates the Codex Alimentarius (food law).  Also mentioned in the foaming e-mails are Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) agreements.

I’m not an international trade lawyer so I won’t try to tell you what this all means or how it will affect Virginia horse owners.  And you should be wary of anyone who does.  Bashing the WTO is counter-productive.  If you’ve ever shopped at Walmart or produced something that was sold overseas (including food), you’ve benefited from U.S./WTO treaties.  Demonizing the WTO solves nothing.

Identifying livestock and where they come from is a crucial, scientifically sound means to stopping the spread of potentially devastating diseases.  Bovine Spongiform Encephalophy (BSE or Mad Cow Disease) has cost Great Britain billions of pounds, thousands of jobs and resulted in the destruction of tens of thousands of cattle.

If a BSE-infected cow was discovered in the U.S. and all its movements and contacts could not be traced, we could see the destruction of hundreds of thousands of cattle and a near-collapse of the beef industry.

Identifying individual animals began in the 1800s when ranchers branded cattle to claim ownership and deter theft.  It was expanded greatly in the early 1900s to help eradicate Bovine Tuberculosis.  It’s been evolving ever since and is not a plot by foreign powers to strip you of your God-given freedoms.

How does all this relate to horses?  It’s true that horses are different than cows, sheep and pigs in that they are not a food source in this country.  But, horses do carry diseases that can infect other species, even humans.  Horses are also a big industry in many parts of the country, and horses travel far, far more than other forms of livestock.

The Equine Species Working Group (ESWG) was formed to evaluate the NAIS and its costs and benefits to the equine industry.  It comprises equine professionals and organizations whose mission is to make reasonable, informed  recommendations to the USDA on how the equine industry might be included in the NAIS program.  They have been designated by the USDA as the official equine group to develop recommendations on how the equine industry will integrate into NAIS.

The ESWG is convinced that simply opposing all equine requirements in NAIS will inevitably result in regulations that will be unduly burdensome to horse owners.  Therefore, ESWG hopes to create a national ID plan that will work within the parameters of NAIS, yet be as friendly to the horse industry as possible.  Currently, the ESWG has NOT endorsed NAIS.

According to their booklet titled NAIS and Horses, “The goal of the ESWG is not to include all horses and all movements in the NAIS. Indeed the latest recommendations reflect that. Rather it is to ensure that federal and state authorities understand what horse ownership and enjoyment involves, and what it would mean to require the identification of every horse, the reporting of every movement and why the industry would oppose that. Indeed, by participating in crafting the application of the system to the uniqueness of the horse industry, the ESWG believes it is more likely that more horses will be excluded than included.”

While it’s unclear if, and in what form, NAIS will become mandatory, there is one bill before Congress that could make it the law of the land.  Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced H.R. 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 to the House of Representatives on 2-4-09.  Section 210, (a) of the bill instructs the newly created Administrator of Food Safety to, “… establish a national traceability system that enables the Administrator to retrieve the history, use, and location of an article of food through all stages of its production, processing, and distribution.”

Horses aren’t food in the U.S., but currently, NAIS rules don’t make exceptions for horses.

H.R. 875 has 41 co-sponsors, but none from Virginia.

On April 15, 2009, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that in an effort to comply with President Obama’s call for transparency in government, he will initiate a “listening tour” to hear comments about NAIS from communities throughout the country.  Details of the tour have not been published yet, but I will post the schedule as soon as it’s released.

Before forming an opinion on NAIS, do some legitimate research on the issue.  Using chain e-mails as a source of information on any subject is not a good idea.  While there are hundreds of places online to get information on NAIS, check the veracity of any claims by going to the source.  Several good places to start are the U.S. Department of Agriculture at, the Equine Species Working Group (ESWG) at and the Virginia Animal ID Program at

The USDA site will give you updated information on the national NAIS and all its requirements.  The ESWG site offers one of the most balanced evaluations of NAIS and it’s effect on the equine industry.  The Virginia site offers guidelines for NAIS compliance within Virginia.

Research, form an opinion and get involved.  Go to the three websites listed above and let them know how you feel about NAIS.  Go to the Virginia Horse News Get Involved page to see how to contact your state and federal representatives.  If you don’t, be content that others will, and you will have to abide by their decisions.


The Reality of Unwanted Horses

April 13, 2009

“No unwanted horses.”  It’s the mantra of the anti-horse-slaughter forces.  They’re good people who care about great animals, but they’re wrong.

Last week, the New York Times reported that law enforcement officers throughout the country, and especially in Kentucky, were reporting significant increases in the number of neglected and abandoned horses.

While 98,363 horses were sent to Canada and Mexico for slaughter last year according to the U.S. Humane Society, prices for these unwanted equines have dropped dramatically.  With some auctions paying as little as $50 per animal, it isn’t practical for some owners to even haul the horses to the auction.

Nevada reports an almost six-fold increase in horses abandoned on state land last year.  Abandoned horses were virtually unheard of in Wyoming before 2008, but officials recovered 20 last year.  Texas rescued 170 neglected horses in the largest seizure of its kind in state history.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been “overwhelmed” with reports of neglected horses, and by giving their emergency hay to rescue facilities, exhausted an entire year’s supply in two months.

With the closing of U.S. horse slaughter facilities and the declining economy, horse abandonment is often the only economically feasible alternative for many horse owners.  In response, several states, including Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois and Montana are looking at ways to bring back horse slaughter.

Montana, where horse slaughter is currently legal, tried to pass a bill that would shield horse slaughter plant investors from many types of lawsuits.  In Illinois, where horse slaughter was made illegal in 2007, the state legislature is trying to pass HB 0583, a bill to repeal the prohibition of horse slaughter (the bill has been stopped for now, but may face a vote in the future).

In February, Nick Rahall (D-WV) introduced HR 1018 to Congress which would, among other things, prohibit the killing of wild horses and burros unless terminally ill.  Yet, the Bureau of Land Management has roughly 30,000 wild horses in holding facilities and another 33,000 on ranges that can only effectively hold 27,000.  Costs are skyrocketing and adoption isn’t working.

In the United States there have always been unwanted horses.   When slaughter was legal in Illinois and Texas, the overseas market for horse meat provided a profitable alternative for horse owners unable or unwilling to care for their horse.  Now, with the economy faltering and the cost and hassle of shipping unwanted horses to Mexico and Canada going up, abandonment is becoming the only cost-free alternative for many owners.

I would cut off an arm before I’d send one of my horses to slaughter.  If I couldn’t sell them to a good home, couldn’t give them to a good home and couldn’t afford to have them humanely destroyed, I’d shoot them myself before allowing them to wind up on some European’s dinner plate.

But, until the anti-slaughter forces come up with viable, no-cost options for the thousands and thousands of unwanted horses in this country, their efforts will have the unintended consequence of putting countless horses out into the wild to starve, wander in pain and ultimately die a more horrific death than at any slaughtering facility.


Coggins: Who Needs It?

April 8, 2009

Rumors are galloping around the Southside that the Virginia state veterinary office paid a visit to the host of a local trail ride in an effort to determine if each horse was accompanied by a current report of negative test (Coggins test) for equine infectious anemia (EIA).

I don’t know the details, but when I heard the rumor it got me thinking about all the various trail rides, big and small, we have in this area.  Exactly what are Virginia’s requirements for having a negative Coggins?  I quickly discovered that if you ask 12 people, you might get 12 different answers.

Everyone knows that you need a negative Coggins report to attend a show, fair, or big public trail ride.  But if Susie loads her nag and goes to Sally’s for a two-hour ramble on private property, is a Coggins required?  Some say yes, some say no.  If two horses don’t need it, how about three?  Four?  Five?  What if the ride was spontaneous, unpublished and no money changed hands, but 30 riders showed up?

If you think reading the Virginia Code will help, think again.  The Virginia Administrative Code 2VAC5-70-20, which derives its statutory authority from sections 3.1-724 through 3.1-730 of the Code of Virginia, states that, “All horses assembled at a show, fair, race meet or other such function in Virginia, must be accompanied by a report of an official negative test for equine infectious anemia conducted within 12 months prior to such event.”

Are a group of friends riding private trails on a quiet Sunday legally classified as, “… other such function …”?

I wanted to know for sure, so I called the office of Veterinary Services at the Virginia Department of Agriculture.  They’re great people, but I quickly learned that the last thing a VDA employee wants to do is discuss legal interpretations.  So I chatted with several VDA staffers and doctors of veterinary medicine and came away enlightened.

It became obvious that the “Coggins” law is vague about certain things and that even lawyers and judges might disagree on the extent of its jurisdiction.  But I also learned that I was looking at the issue from the wrong perspective.  It’s not the law I should be concerned with, but what’s best for the horse.

Equine infectious anemia is a highly contagious virus with characteristics similar to HIV.  While it poses no risk to humans, it can be deadly to horses.  A horse with EIA can be chronic, only showing occasional symptoms which might mimic other more benign conditions.  Such a horse may appear to get better with common treatments such as antibiotics, but they’re still infectious.

Or, EIA can have an acute effect, taking a horse from health to death rapidly.  And worse, most EIA carriers appear healthy, showing no outward signs of the disease, while forever posing a risk to the horses around it.

The most common means of transmission for EIA are biting flies and mosquitos, which carry blood from one horse to another.  But, it’s important to remember that since EIA is a blood borne disease, anything that transfers blood from one horse to another is capable of transmitting the virus.  This includes teeth floats, curry combs, bits, hoof picks, first aid equipment, thermometers, et al.

I also learned that mosquitos and flies, while rare in the winter, have been sighted in the state during every month of the year.  There is no safe season for EIA.

A Coggins test does not directly protect your horse from anything.  It just lets you know if your horse is infected.  But if everyone tests their horses, collectively it protects all the horses.  When a deadly disease has no prevention and no cure, the only defense is identifying the animals with the disease and removing them from the population.  Coggins is the best effort so far to do that and it’s working wonderfully.

Virginia has a good record on controlling EIA.  The last cases (2) were in 2004 and there haven’t been any reported since, thanks in large part to the Coggins testing requirement.  But, if we stop Coggins testing, EIA will likely flare up again.  Then we’re all at increased risk.

The state’s rules governing Coggins testing aren’t a revenue stream for the state.  It’s not some conspiracy to control your life and meddle in your affairs.  The requirements for Coggins testing are there to protect YOUR horse, but it only works if the horses around you are also tested.

While the Virginia Department of Agriculture has no plans to stake out Sally, Susie or those casual weekend riders, I did pick up some advice that works in any situation: Anywhere there are multiple horses from multiple owners, every horse should have a current, negative Coggins.  If you ride with people you don’t know, don’t hesitate to ask if they have a negative Coggins.

In the end, it’s not about Big Brother or compliance with the law.  You’ll already have a Coggins if you care about your horses, so the big question is: Why would you ride with people who don’t?