The loophole that has allowed slaughter-bound horses to be transported in double-decker trailers may be closed under a proposed amendment to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulation.
Currently, the federal regulations written to enforce the "Commercial Transportation of Equines to Slaughter" rule apply only to transport to slaughter plants, meaning double-decker trailers can still be used to ship horses to feedlots, stockyards and other holding facilities. From there, they are reloaded into single-deck trailers for the trip to the slaughter plant.
"We have received numerous reports of this situation occurring," the USDA wrote in its amendment proposal. "We believe that equines may be delivered to these intermediate points for the sole purpose of avoiding compliance with the regulations."
Under the proposed amendment, the prohibition against double-decker transport would apply to "any member of the Equidae family being transferred to a slaughter facility, including an assembly point, feedlot, or stockyard." The current regulations, which also require that slaughter-bound horses receive adequate food, water and rest, have been in effect since February 2002.
The new language was drafted last November, shortly after a double-decker trailer carrying 59 horses collided with a car and overturned just north of Chicago, Ill. Firefighters, veterinarians and rescue groups spent hours extracting the horses from the wreck. Forty horses survived; the owner surrendered the animals and most have been adopted through the Hooved Animal Rescue and Protection Society (HARPS) in Barrington, Ill.
"This accident was the straw that broke the camel's back, and it brought the issue to the public's attention," says Donna Ewing, president of HARPS.
But she is un-certain that passage of the amendment will make a difference: "People who want to find a way to get around this regulation will. It's unenforceable."
The American Horse Council has expressed support for the USDA proposal, but the Livestock Marketing Association, an organization representing auction marketers, issued a release stating that "any attempt to manage or limit the trucking of horses to and from auction markets or other intermediate delivery points.is without merit and goes beyond the scope of the law."
The proposed rule has already gone through a public comment period. At press time, it was undergoing review by the USDA. If signed by a USDA undersecretary it would go into effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register.
This article originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of EQUUS magazine.