Equine abuse has been in the news ever since November's appalling discovery of 84 starving horses on a Cannon County farm. The attempt by state Rep. Janis Sontany and state Sen. Bill Ketron to ramp up the legal punishment for such aggravated abuse — and the ardent opposition by the Tennessee Farm Bureau — has also received plenty of media play (see "All the Starving Horses," March 11). But State Rep. Frank Niceley has a radically different — and heretofore unpublicized — proposal that he says will curb the abuse.
Niceley wants to legalize horse slaughter.
Niceley and state Sen. Mike Faulk have a bill in the Tennessee legislature that would enable "the humane handling and slaughter of surplus domestic horses" (HB 1428/SB 1898). Prime co-sponsors include a hefty number of the members of the House Agriculture Committee through which the bill must pass.
The reason the slaughter bill has so far not registered on the radar screen is because Niceley filed it as what's called a "caption" bill, a bill whose stated purpose has little-to-no-relationship to its ultimate legislative intent. The real import behind a caption bill is revealed by subsequent amendments to the original. This legislative hocus-pocus is permitted as long as the amendments alter the same sections of the Tennessee legal code as the original bill. Legislators often employ the tactic to conceal the content of controversial legislation until it can be rammed through with a minimum of unwelcome publicity.
Thus when Niceley filed HB 1428 last year, the summary of the bill directed the commissioner of agriculture to "ensure that the statistics and other information" produced by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture "are posted and kept current on the department's web site" — innocuous stuff. Niceley and Faulk eventually deferred this bill to the 2010 legislative session.
The amendments to HB 1428 that recently emerged, however, delete all references to statistics and websites. The amendments declare the intent "to encourage the location of equine slaughter and processing facilities in Tennessee and provide for the operation of such facilities in a sanitary, safe, and humane manner, with such facilities to be licensed, permitted, inspected, and regulated by the department of agriculture." This is legislative whiplash territory.
Niceley says that last week he deferred the slaughter bill's hearing before the House Budget Subcommittee until April 7 because "it's easier to get things passed" toward the end of a session, "when things get busy." One of his senatorial colleagues, who refuses to speak on the record because "I have to work with this guy," detects another motive.
"Frank doesn't want it to come up until the filing date [April 1] has passed for candidates who might run against him," the legislator says.
Niceley points out that he already has two declared opponents. That he was recently pronounced "hostile to business" by the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce is another hurdle he'll have to negotiate. In an interview with the Knoxville News Sentinel, Niceley countered that the chamber is "out of control," "out of touch," and "obviously has something to hide." Under these circumstances, hiding the slaughter bill for as long as possible seems prudent politics.
Rep. Niceley, a farmer who lives in Strawberry Plains in East Tennessee, is a member of the House Agriculture Committee and chair of the House Subcommittee of Agriculture. He's also a member of the Farm Bureau — and the Tennessee Farm Bureau supports horse slaughter. To Niceley, horse slaughter is both common sense and good biz sense. In two interviews with the Scene, Niceley made his case.
"You just can't adopt out all the unwanted horses," he explains. "The reason horses are abused is because the do-gooders try to stop slaughter. We never had this problem before HSUS [Humane Society of the United States] and P.E.T.A. [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] came along."
Niceley says the horses that are starving are the result "of adoptions where they didn't have to pay $1,000 for the animal, which it would be worth if we had slaughter." These adopters "don't realize the expense of keeping a horse, so they get in over their heads." His rationale ignores the large-scale abuse of equines recently rescued in Cannon and Sumner counties, to name just two.
For Niceley, slaughter is the solution because it creates "an end product for a horse, so they won't get so cheap. Right now you can get a horse for $10 or $20 at a sale," he says. A horse can be "a valuable product" for the meat and hide, which will give owners "a reason to keep them healthy."
Niceley says the opposition to horse slaughter isn't rational but emotional — the result of misplaced sentiment by those he calls, with sneering sexism, "Desperate Horsewives. Girls all want a horse when they're little; they don't want to eat Trigger. But we eat livestock, that's what we do."
Niceley admits that Americans aren't exactly clamoring to their butchers for equine flesh. "But there's a good export market" in Europe and the Far East "that would bring new wealth into the state from overseas," he notes. "They eat a lot of horse meat in China." Of course, what Nicely doesn't mention is that some Chinese eat dog meat, as well. Maybe he's also hit on a master strategy for the state's pet shelters.
Even if his bill passes, Niceley acknowledges, equine slaughterhouses won't immediately spring up in Tennessee because of federal policies. While horse slaughter is not strictly speaking illegal in the United States, it is illegal to transport horsemeat across state lines for human consumption. The last such slaughterhouse on U.S. soil closed in 2007 after legally necessary federal inspections of equine slaughter plants were de-funded by Congress.
Since then, horses have been shipped for slaughter primarily to Mexico and Canada — approximately 100,000 a year. The majority come from the horse racing and walking horse industries, according to Leighann McCollum, the Tennessee director of HSUS. The organization opposes horse slaughter, she explains, because "the horse is not a food animal in this country."
The horrific conditions to which these animals are subjected is available to anyone who Googles "horse slaughter" and can steel himself to look at the pictures. Transport is often provided in vehicles designed for shorter cattle or sheep in which horses cannot raise their heads. And because equines evolved as flight animals, they are difficult to stun in the killboxes. Horses are infamous for remaining conscious while being shackled, hoisted, cut and "bled out."
Niceley says bringing horse slaughter home would stop such cruelty because state regulations for transport and slaughter would be more humane. "My goal is to have the best, most modern, most humane slaughterhouses in the world right here in Tennessee." He says his bill would create a "friendly environment" for perhaps a firm from China to construct an equine slaughterhouse in a state that's in "the heart of horse country, so they" — the horses, not the Chinese — "would have a short trip."
If Tennessee were to become the go-to state for equine slaughter, however, horses could arrive on our doorstep after lengthy journeys from all over the country. How the Tennessee Department of Agriculture would regulate their transport is still to be determined — stop every slaughter truck at the state line?
One of the most questionable aspects of Niceley's bill is the punitive strictures it places on the person or organization challenging the licensing or permitting of an equine slaughterhouse. As currently written, the bill requires anyone mounting such a legal challenge to post as surety bond "20 percent of the estimated cost of building such a facility or the operational costs of an existing facility." And if the challenger loses, "such a person is liable for all financial losses the facility suffers if the court issues an injunction that halts operations while the action is pending." Such edicts raise troubling questions about citizen access to the court system, a right guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution.
Of course, legalizing horse slaughter could provide Tennessee's Department of Tourism Development with new marketing possibilities for its agritourism programs. In addition to corn mazes and pumpkin patches, the department could pitch tours of our "modern" and "humane" slaughter facilities. Not to mention billboards featuring images of shackled and hoisted horses overlaid with the department's current catch phrase: "In Tennessee, the Stage is Set for You!"
Niceley's proposal ultimately recalls — at least to those familiar with English literary history — an essay written by Jonathan Swift published way back in 1729. In "A Modest Proposal," Swift suggests that the starving Irish could relieve their plight — and turn their children from burden to public benefit — by selling their offspring as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. Swift's essay, however, was a savage satire attacking British policies in the Emerald Isle. Frank Niceley, on the other hand, isn't kidding.
Tisk tisk tisk
I was at Cleopatra it was awsoooooooooome
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