Legislation to encourage horse slaughterhouses in Tennessee won approval of a House committee Tuesday, five months after Congress lifted what amounted to a national ban on processing the animals for food.
As introduced by Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, HB3619 simply called on the state commissioner of agriculture to keep statistics on horses on a website.
As amended before approval by the House Agricuture Committee, it instead erects a legal hurdle for lawsuits against horse slaughterhouses and inserts into law a declaration that “the General Assembly intends to encourage the location of equine slaughter and processing facilities in Tennessee that meet all sanitary, safety and humane slaughter requirements.”
Under the proposed new law, anyone filing a lawsuit to challenge issuance of a permit for horse slaughter would have to post a surety bond equal to 20 percent of the estimated cost of building the facility or, if it is already open, to its operational costs.
Also, if a judge finds the legal challenge “without merit,” the person or group filing the challenge is subject to paying the slaughter facility’s court costs, attorney fees and “all financial losses the facility suffers” as a result of the legal action.
The idea, said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, is to show prospective horse processing operations that “we are going to be fair and friendly toward them.”
Niceley, who unsuccessfully pushed horse slaughter legislation himself in the past, said he is aware of potential slaughterhouse operators already looking to locate operations in Tennessee.
Holt said a federal ban on horse slaughter within the United States, which took effect in 2006, has dramatically diminished the value of horses and led to thousands of animals being neglected or abandoned to starve.
At the same time, Holt said, export of American horses to Canada and Mexico, which still permit horse slaughter, has surged. Especially in Mexico, he said horses face inhumane slaughter conditions.
“Areas like Tennessee suffer disproportionately because they’re so far from the Canadan and Mexican markets,” he said, adding that Tennessee had about 142,000 horses at last count and ranks sixth among all states in horse population.
Passing the bill, Holt said, opens the door to providing jobs in horse meat production within Tennessee as well as to more humane treatment of horses than being trucked to another country for slaughter or dying of starvation.
President Obama signed into law last November legislation that restored the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ability to inspect horse meat processing facilities, which had been ended in 2006 to impose an effective ban since, without inspections, the meat could not be sold.
Only Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Boliver, voted against Holt’s bill in committee. It is scheduled for a Senate commmitttee vote next week.