News release from Humane Society of the United States:
(April 19, 2013) – The Humane Society of the United States urged Gov. Bill Haslam to veto Tennessee’s notorious anti-whistleblower, or “ag-gag,” bill, SB1248, which would make it a crime for reputable non-profit organizations and journalists to document and expose unethical and illegal activity in horse stables and at industrial agriculture facilities. The bill narrowly passed the House with a bare minimum of votes and will soon be transmitted to Gov. Haslam for action.
In a letter to Gov. Haslam, Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO, said the bill “appears to be an attempt to enact a policy of covering up abuses, and keeping the public from learning of them. If it is signed into law, it may indeed backfire, and result in more public mistrust and skepticism about the workings of the Tennessee walking horse industry at a time when it is already suffering a drastic decline in popularity due to the stigma of soring.”
In 2011, an HSUS investigation into Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell’s stable in Collierville, Tenn., revealed shocking cruelty to horses. The whistleblower recorded horses being whipped, kicked, shocked in the face and intentionally burned with caustic chemicals. As a direct result of that investigation, a federal grand jury handed down a 52-count criminal indictment and a state grand jury indicted McConnell and two others for 38 counts of criminal animal cruelty.
These crimes would have never come to light but for the work of The HSUS’ undercover investigation, which exposed a culture of lawlessness and cruelty that has thrived within the Tennessee walking horse show industry. In 2010, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General released a damning report, concluding that “The practice of soring has been ingrained as an acceptable practice in the industry for decades” and that the “APHIS’ [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] program for inspecting horses for soring is not adequate to ensure that these animals are not being abused.”
Members of the U.S. Congress have introduced legislation to fortify the Horse Protection Act and crack down on soring abuses. In a poll conducted last fall by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, 75 percent of Tennessee voters statewide (by a more than 5-to-1 margin) said they support stronger federal legislation to prevent the cruel practice of horse soring. What’s more, 62 percent support legislation at the state level making the act of soring a felony offense, and said they would avoid buying from companies that provide financial sponsorship to horse shows that promote stacked, chained Tennessee Walking horses. Every demographic group and political affiliation strongly favored strengthening the laws against soring.
Added Leighann McCollum, Tennessee state director for The HSUS, “Our lawmakers should focus on rooting out cruelty, not cover up the next scandal and shield the scofflaws who are shaming Tennessee’s horse industry. We urge Governor Haslam to veto this bill, and stop the animal cruelty cover-up.”