Organized by Dr. Ann Marini, Equine Welfare Alliance and Animal Law Coalition, the 3 day International Equine Conference in Alexandria, Virginia this past week, was oversold, packed with people from all over the U.S. and Canada, who want to improve horse welfare.
Many more followed the conference activities on Facebook.
One attendee summarized, "What a conference. On the edge of my seat for 3 days. More than a conference–an extraordinary event. It just blew me away".
This first International Conference on Equine Welfare was a two part symposium with speakers discussing issues related to (1) America’s Wild Horses and Burros and (2) Slaughter: the Equine Welfare, Human Health and Environmental Implications.
Attendees learned from U.S. Reps. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY) they have their work cut out for them if the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, S.B. 1176/H.R. 2966, is ever to become law. Rep. Moran explained the GAO report has undermined efforts to pass the legislation though he told the crowd the rebuttal to the GAO report which was prepared by Equine Welfare Alliance and Animal Law Coalition, will be helpful to Congressional supporters of the bill.
Rep. Whitfield explained every bill must have a committed sponsor as well as the commitment of the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority leader to bring the bill to a vote. The anti-slaughter bill passed the House of Representatives in 2006 because then Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) told the Agriculture Committee that he would take the bill out of committee in three days if they didn’t pass it. The Committee didn’t respond. Speaker Hastert took the bill out of committee and brought it to the floor for a vote, and the bill passed. The bill never came up for a vote in the Senate that session so it did not become law.
Even if the current bill passes committee, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner (R-OH) is not likely to bring the bill to a vote. Not to mention the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), as the architect of the Burns amendment that has permitted the slaughter of thousands of wild horses since 2004, is not a supporter of the bill.
Elizabeth Weiner, projects assistant for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), sponsor of the senate version of the anti-slaughter bill, S.B. 1176; and Jayme Rosandich, aide to Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), sponsor of the House version, H.R. 2966, encouraged attendees to urge their representatives and senators as well as committee chair to support the bill.
Sonya Meadows, Executive Director of Animals Angels, told the crowd about their investigations that revealed terrible cruelty to horses at every step in the slaughter pipeline, from the auctions to the slaughter house. We learned that the U.S. regulations for humane transport of equines are not enforced; there is only one agent assigned to the task, and enforcement is undermined by the attitude "these horses are going to be slaughtered anyway".
Joanne Normile, founder and former executive director of CANTER, told the attendees about her work rescuing Thoroughbreds that would have been sold for slaughter because they could no longer run fast enough.
The crowded room was silent as former Kaufman, Texas Mayor Paula Bacon described the economic and environmental devastation her town endured because of the operation of the Dallas Crown slaughterhouse there: The stench that permeated the town, the waste and blood that clogged the sewers and overran the town’s wastewater treatment plant, the cost to the town in trying to enforce the innumberable violations, the few low wage jobs created, the lack of tax revenues, and general poor quality of life. She explained the town could not attract business because of the horse slaughter plant.
Bacon said a community would be better off with a "lead smeltering plant or a sexually oriented business than a horse slaughter plant".
The good news Bacon brought to the conference is that since the plant’s closing in 2007, citizens report a better quality of life. They can go outdoors, sit on their decks and porches, and not be assailed by the terrible stench, the screams of horses, the sounds of the captive bolt guns or the blood running in the streets.
Ann Marini, Ph.D., M.D., an organizer and lead sponsor of the conference, discussed her powerful study which confirmed the danger to public health from consumption of meat from U.S. horses which are given bute and other drugs banned in animals raised for food. The drug and medical histories of U.S. horses are not tracked, and kill buyers have no idea of the drugs in the horses they are sending for slaughter for human consumption. The danger is ignored by USDA and FDA as they allow thousands of American horses to be exported for slaughter for human consumption.
Prior to the conference, Joan Guilfoyle, newly appointed director of the BLM’s Wild Horses and Burros Program, contacted organizers. She indicated she would attend to "listen". She was asked if she would like to speak to the conference goers. Guilfoyle told organizers she would introduce herself but could not talk about the program she is hired to run because she did not know enough about it yet. She also said she would not take questions from attendees.
Guilfoyle, however, apparently felt prepared enough the week prior to the conference to give an interview to the New York Times about the Wild Horses and Burros Program.
Though Guilfoyle said she wanted to "listen", she did not attend the conference until the last day when she was scheduled to introduce herself. So she did not hear Katie Fite, Western Watersheds Project, discuss the effect of cattle grazing permits on public lands. Guilfoyle did not see the photo after photo Fite displayed of western rangeland that BLM is supposed to be managing, destroyed by cattle grazing, not wild horses or burros. Fite said the permits are for the most part held by large corporations, not family ranchers or farmers.
Fite also showed photographs of fencing and other obstructions to grazing and water sources BLM has allowed on public lands to benefit cattle ranchers or developers, but threaten wild horses and burros and other wild animals such as the sage grouse.
The cattle industry receives a substantial taxpayer subsidy from livestock grazing on public lands. The industry pays only $1.35 per animal under 18,000 grazing permits and leases on 258 million acres of public lands. Grazing livestock on public lands is a "$132 million loss to the American taxpayer each year and independent economists have estimated the true cost at between $500 million and $1 billion dollars a year." Despite this, only 2-4% of beef production is from grazing cattle on public lands.
Guilfoyle also did not see award winning filmmaker Katia Louise‘ brilliant and powerful film, Saving America’s Horses – A Nation Betrayed. The film continues to win awards on the festival circuit.
Guilfoyle arrived at the conference with Dean Bolstad, Deputy Devision Chief of the Wild Horse and Burros Program, and Ed Roberson, BLM’s Assistant Director, in tow. She was visibly nervous as she rose to speak to the crowd. Yet she basically stuck to her script, regaling attendees with her resume – She is a longtime government employee and enjoys yoga. She did get in a few BLM chestnuts like "BLM is not managing the wild horses and burros to extinction"; "I hope you will read the information BLM publishes"; and "You should come and see a ‘gather’". (Her words rang hollow particularly when later filmmaker James Kleinert who screened his film, Wild Horses and Renegades, at the conference, told conference attendees he had to file suit against the BLM to gain access to the Spring Creek Basin roundup in Colorado where the agency is zeroing out the herd to make way for uranium extraction. Other lawsuits have been filed as members of the public attempt to gain access to BLM roundups.)
Guilfoyle repeated the phrase "multiple use", savoring it like a child with a bag of Halloween candy. Indeed, the concept of "multiple use" is the bedrock of BLM’s wild horse and burro policy; it is the justification for the massive stepped up roundups over the last few years. The problem is "multiple use" to BLM means the cattle ranchers, oil and gas, mining and other development interests are arbitrarily given priority in the giveaway of our public lands, never the animals specifically protected by law.
Guilfoyle spoke of using Mustangs in therapy or rehabilitation programs. Many attendees wondered why Guilfoyle wasn’t talking about ways to keep the wild horses and burros on the range.
Guilfoyle was then followed by award winning filmmaker, Ginger Kathrens, also founder of The Cloud Foundation. Kathrens looked directly at Guilfoyle as she said, "The BLM is managing the wild horses and burros to extinction." Kathrens explained BLM arbitrarily sets lower and lower "appropriate management levels" or numbers of wild horses and burros the range can support. Kathrens said the BLM then only allows the number on the low end of the AML to remain.
She said, to make matters worse, BLM does not have an accurate census and exaggerates the birth rates, claiming it is 20% each year. Kathrens, who spends weeks in the wild with Cloud’s herd, confirmed a report released last year that indicates there are far fewer horses and burros than BLM claims.
Kathrens laid out a 10 point plan for humane management of wild horses and burros with a goal of keeping them on the range.
Madeleine Pickens also looked directly at Guilfoyle and Bolstad and offered again to enter into a partnership with BLM to move captured wild horses from short term holding facilities to the range in both reproducing and non-reproducing herds. Pickens told the crowd about her wild horse eco-preserve, Mustang Monument, where Paiute mustangs rescued from slaughter last year, now roam free.
Guilfoyle and Bolstad made no response to Picken’s offer.
But Guilfoyle then fled to the back of the conference room.
She was at least in the room when economist Caroline Betts, Ph.D., M.A., a professor at the University of Southern California in international finance and macroeconomics, said the BLM numbers don’t add up. She said BLM simply assumes the number of horses doubles every four years which would mean there are a million horses on the range today. Even BLM says there are less than 40,000.
Dr. Betts explained, "Either the removal data is wrong or the 20 percent population growth is wrong".
Dr. Bruce Nock, an expert in wild horse captivity, emphasized the terrible stress and suffering these wild animals endure as, contrary to the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, they are stampeded by helicopters, subjected to "capture", "harassment" and inhumane treatment, injury and even death, separated forever from their families and bands and then locked up in government holding pens that are akin to feedlots. Dr. Nock challenged that none of the BLM veterinarians have expertise in stress in captured animals.
Quite different from Guilfoyle’s comments prior to the conference when she told the New York Times that only "one in a thousand…bumps up against the gate". She said all the other horses and burros "[come] through more or less agreeably." She dismissed the terrible suffering of these animals as a public relations problem. (Maybe she is not aware of the recent injunction issued to stop BLM’s cruel and inhumane abuse of horses during a roundup.)
One attendee said Guilfoyle took a "lot of notes" during her day at the 3 day conference. Let’s hope it wasn’t her grocery list.
Logo courtesy of Terry Fitch