“Whether it was the smell of Chick-Fil-A wafting through the hallways of the Rayburn House Office Building or the genuine passion to learn more about federal legislation that would promote animal welfare, Capitol Hill staff came out in droves on July 25 to hear from experts on the harmful effects that soring has on the nation’s walking horses.
AVMA, along with the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), held the “lunch and learn” for Hill staff to explain what soring is and why it is important that Members of Congress support the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (H.R. 1518). The legislation, introduced in the U.S. House by Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) on April 11, would amend the Horse Protection Act (HPA) by allowing an increase in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ability to enforce regulations and penalize those who inhumanely sore horses. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) introduced companion legislation (S. 1406) in the U.S. Senate on July 31.
AAEP President Dr. Ann Dwyer explained that a “culture of abuse” continues to exist in the walking horse performance show industry.
“Despite more than 40 years after the Horse Protection Act, which made soring illegal in shows, sales or exhibits, the horse show industry has failed to police itself,” Dr. Dwyer said. “A sored gait is still rewarded in the show ring.”
The Director of AVMA’s Animal Welfare Division, Dr. Gail Golab, explained that the legislation will amend the HPA to make the actual act of soring illegal, further restrict the devices that can be used on horses when they are shown, increase civil and criminal penalties against violators, and, for the first time, require the USDA (rather than horse industry organizations) to license, train, assign and oversee inspectors to enforce the regulations at horse shows.
“Soring is abusive and it must be stopped,” said Dr. Golab. “The USDA must have the tools it needs to strongly and consistently enforce the Horse Protection Act and regulations. Congress can help stop soring by passing the PAST Act.”
U.S. Congressman Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), a large animal veterinarian and freshman member, stopped by the briefing as a signal of his support for the bill. Rep. Yoho is one of more than 130 cosponsors of the House legislation.
The legislation presents some concerns to the USDA, which has been forced to make across-the-board cutbacks to its programs due to current budget issues within the federal government.
AVMA’s CEO and Executive Vice President Dr. Ron DeHaven explained that, in a meeting with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on July 25, the secretary expressed support for the goals of the PAST Act, but has concerns that the bill could require additional funds for the inspection program, which the agency cannot spare, potentially resulting in an unfunded or underfunded mandate.
AVMA contends that, if the provisions within the PAST Act are put into regulation, then the USDA’s current method of enforcement would be altered in a way that would stop the need for the agency to police the horse industry organizations, which currently oversee, assign, and train inspectors. The program could be replaced with one that uses USDA-trained inspectors (preferably veterinarians), which will allow it to run more efficiently and not require additional congressional appropriations beyond what is currently in the President’s budget proposal.”