The bell has rung for the latest round in the fight to amend the Horse Protection Act.
Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais introduced the Horse Protection Amendments Act of 2017 earlier this month. The move comes a little more than a month after the Trump administration withdrew all unpublished rules, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final rule that was intended to end soring.
“President Trump placed a necessary freeze on hurried, last-minute regulations from the outgoing administration, which could have ended the famed Tennessee Walking Horse industry,” according to a statement attributed to DesJarlais. “But concerned members of Congress want to ensure the USDA’s poorly thought-out plan to oversee the industry never takes effect.”
H.R. 1338 aims to replace the Designated Qualified Persons program, which is responsible for enforcing the HPA, with a new inspection system.
“I introduced the Horse Protection Amendments Act to create a better system, one which relies on local expertise, better science, and most importantly, produces healthy animals,” according to the Tennessee Republican. “Current law has already helped to remove bad actors. Our goal is to hold them accountable, raise positive inspection rates from 96 to 100%, and preserve an over $3 billion industry.”
The bill proposes to define “objective inspection” as “using only inspection methods based on science-based protocols (including swabbing or blood testing protocols) that (a) have been the subject of testing and are capable of producing scientifically reliable, reproducible results; (b) have been subjected to peer review; and (c) have received acceptance in the veterinary or other applicable scientific community.”
In addition, it calls for the establishment of a single industry enforcement body in the form of a Horse Industry Organization (HIO). The HIO could consist of nine appointees. The Tennessee agriculture commissioner would appoint two of the board members, while the Kentucky agriculture commissioner would appoint another two. These four individuals, in consultation with the Walking Horse Trainers Association, would then appoint two representatives from the walking horse industry. These six appointees then would appoint three more members. The current HPA is enforced by multiple HIOs that have differing rules and enforcement guidelines.
The legislation has been endorsed by Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration CEO Mike Inman, who applauded its reliance on “objective, scientific testing” of blood testing and digital radiographs.
The American Horse Council (AHC), however, is no fan of the bill.
“The AHC opposes the DesJarlais bill because it would not reduce the prevalence of soring in the Tennessee Walking Horse, Spotted Saddle Horse, and Racking Horse industry and does not address most of the issues raised in a USDA Office of Inspector General Report on the HPA enforcement program,” according to a statement from the AHC. “In fact, it could exacerbate the situation by placing responsibility for enforcement of the HPA more firmly in the hands of a walking horse-controlled HIO.”
The AHC specifically lists the following reasons for its opposition:
• It does not address action devices, weighted shoes, pads, wedges, hoof bands or other devices that are used to artificially alter gait.
• It does not increase fines and penalties for soring.
• It does not prohibit the actual soring of horses.
• It largely retains the current walking horse industry self-policing structure.
• It removes any recourse the USDA currently has if the newly established HIO failed to enforce the HPA.
While DesJarlais says that H.R. 1338 aims to protect the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, one wonders how serious he is. After all, the new legislation he introduced is identical to H.R. 4105, which was introduced in 2015. That bill died in committee.
This might not be much of a fight.