Advocates working to prevent a return of horse slaughter within the United States won a large victory in a small state last week.
A tactical change in the battle to end horse slaughter has begun, as advocates urge individual states to pass legislation not only banning horse slaughter within that state, but also banning the transport of horses through the state if they are heading to slaughter.
New Jersey may be a small state, but it made itself heard on this issue. On Friday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a piece of legislation with the code name "A-2023". No matter what you call it, the new law bans the in-state slaughter of horses, the transport of horses to slaughter, and the sale of horsemeat for human consumption.
Horses are big business in New Jersey, and the state is also home to several racetracks as well as a major center of recreational riding and competitive horse sport. It is the home of the US Equestrian Team. Critically, New Jersey is one of the centers of Standardbred racing and breeding in the United States, so the aspects of transporting former racehorses ?bound to slaughter is a critical one in a state like this.
Many people have heard about the black market of horse meat in Florida that created a hidden network on illegal slaughterhouses hidden on back roads. Under the new law, anyone in New Jersey who slaughters or sells horsemeat for human consumption would be guilty of a disorderly persons offense, subject to a fine of at least $100 and imprisonment of at least 30 days. They also would face civil fines of $500 to $1,000 for each horse.
But it is the transport-to-slaughter clause in the bill that may bring the most attentive readings of the new law. New Jersey's key location in the northeast corridor of the interstate highway system makes this law of interest to horse haulers and auction buyers, no matter where they are headed.
"(The new law) ensures that our highways will not be used to transport horses to slaughter in other states which have not enacted a similar ban on the practice," said Governor Christie. "I'd like to thank Assemblyman Dancer and animal welfare advocates for their leadership on this issue and ensuring that this bill made it to my desk."
The measure creates a state level ban in response to recent changes at the federal level, which lifted a 5-year ban on federal funding for Department of Agriculture inspection of plants that process horsemeat for human consumption.
"New Jersey does not eat horsemeat and our horses will not be taken from the stable to a table," said Assemblyman Ronald S. Dancer, who sponsored the bill. "The horse is New Jersey's state animal and we appreciate these magnificent animals for their grace and beauty. We do not want them butchered or sold to slaughterhouses in our communities for human consumption."
Mr. Dancer is a former Commissioner of the N.J. Horse Racing Commission and Trustee of the N.J. Department of Agriculture's Sire Stakes Board. He is the son of the legendary Standardbred horseman and race driver Stanley Dancer.
The cause of fighting horse slaughter in New Jersey was boosted when American showjumper and prominent New Jersey resident Jessica Springsteen appealed to Governor Christie to sign the legislation. Christie is an ardent fan of Springsteen's rock star father.
A letter signed by Springsteen and other prominent New Jersey equestrians stated: "As horse owners and enthusiasts, we are appalled that once-loved horses could meet such a brutal end. When no re-homing option exists, a horse should be humanely euthanized by a licensed veterinarian, not loaded onto a truck, cruelly transported, and then butchered for consumption abroad."
Governor Christie also noted, "This bipartisan measure is a nod to our decency and respect for horses in our state, ensuring that no horse is slaughtered in New Jersey for human consumption."
New Jersey is also home to the Camelot Horse Weekly rescue network, which offers feedlot horses that might otherwise be bound for slaughter via a highly developed network on Facebook and the web.
While the law in New Jersey is a victory for anti-slaughter advocates, it remains to be seen how and if the new law will be enforced. Legislation must be paired with enforcement funding and intentional effort to be effective. It will also be necessary to review any future challenges to the New Jersey bill to see if other states that hope to emulate the New Jersey action should duplicate the wording or the classification of such bills.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was quick to praise New Jersey for its new law.
"All states that do not specifically ban this abhorrent practice are at risk of becoming home to new slaughtering facilities," said Debora Bresch, Esq., senior state director of ASPCA Government Relations for the Mid-Atlantic region, in a statement.?"By signing this bill into law, Governor Christie has spared?New Jersey?communities exposure to the extreme cruelty of horse slaughter and the horse slaughter trade that has made the state a major artery for the transport of horses to slaughterhouses in?Canada, ultimately providing us with another crucial victory in the growing movement for a complete and total ban on horse slaughter."
Please download and read the legislation:
New Jersey Bill to Outlaw Horse Slaughter Full Text
Note: It is not clear or noted whether this version is the final bill that was signed into law by Governor Christie but this is the most recent version of the bill posted on the legislature's web site.
If you're interested in helping homeless and helpless horses avoid becoming part of the horse slaughter system, consider ordering the 2013 Horses and Hope calendar, featuring Sarah K. Andrew's moving photos of Camelot Weekly horses, and created by Gina Keesling of Hoofprints.