Three horse-related bills and amendments died in committee at the Roundhouse yesterday. They were crafted by Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA NM) president Patience O’Dowd and sponsored by Gail Chasey, D-Bernalillo.
In the packed meeting room, opposition to all three bills was strong, with many people from around the state speaking out against them. As the meeting wore on, Rep. Chasey may have realized she’d been railroaded into sponsoring some rather bad pieces of legislation. O’Dowd was chastised a couple of times by Candy Ezzell, Chair of the Agriculture, Water and Wildlife Committee (and a rancher who knows her horses), for making misleading statements.
HB 410 proposed to prohibit “horse slaughter or transporting horses for slaughter for human consumption.” It also banned the transportation of horse meat for human consumption within New Mexico. A violation of either law would have been a misdemeanor. While meant to strike a blow against horse slaughter in general, the confusing, poorly written bill would have presented significant enforcement issues. A reader who attended the committee hearing writes, “The ranchers and other horse folks at the hearing…noted that anyone hauling a horse through New Mexico would have to ‘prove’ the horse wasn’t [intended] for human consumption.” The vote: 7-1 against. [Note: this paragraph has been revised to correct the original post].
Currently, horses are legally considered livestock rather than companion animals, and must be treated and cared for according to livestock and animal husbandry laws. Different laws (cruelty-to-animals laws) address the humane treatment of companion animals and pets. HB 411 proposed to amend an existing animal cruelty law to include “equines not classified as food animals.” Changing which section of the law horses fall under, while it sounds simple, would have many repercussions and present significant problems for ranchers, farmers, horse boarders and trainers, producers of horse events, and others who work with horses. Like cruelty-to-animal laws, livestock laws also provide protection to animals. Groups such as the American Horse Council and other national and state equine organizations are against redefining horses as companion animals, but it’s a complex issue with arguments on both sides.
Regardless, this particular bill was not well thought out. According to the NM Livestock Board (NMLB), “The proposed amendment is difficult to understand and impossible to implement.” The NM Department of Agriculture said it would “cause problems for normal agricultural operations across the state.” The LFC’s Fiscal Impact Report noted that the bill conflicted with existing state and federal laws regarding livestock and presented a number of enforcement issues. And what the heck are “equines not classified as food animals,” anyway? The NMLB wrote, “It incorrectly leads one to believe there is such a classification as a ‘food horse.’ No such classification or definition exists.” The upshot? 7-1 against.
HB 412 would have required the NM Livestock Board to “identify and monitor animals at the Mexican border that have been rejected for slaughter for human consumption.” By way of background, horses that are transported to Canada or Mexico must appear to be in reasonable health; horses that are obviously ill or decrepit are turned away at the border. However well-intentioned, HB412 was short on specifics and timelines, didn’t define what is meant by “identify and monitor,” and included no funding for the cash-strapped NMLB to carry out the ambiguous tasks. This one failed 8-0.