2011 has already brought controversy in the horse world with several legislative items related to horses emerging at the state level.
Nebraska State Senator Tyson Larson wants to bring horse slaughter to his home state. In January, the newly-elected Republican introduced LB 305, a bill that would create a state meat inspection agency to allow processing and export of horse meat.
According to his website, Sen. Larson comes from a horse farming heritage, and his bill reflects an opinion that has become common among horse ranchers in western states: that horse owners and breeders need slaughter as a disposal option for unwanted horses. However, the vast majority of Americans—approximately 70%, according to a 2009 Public Opinion Strategies poll—oppose horse slaughter.
According to Sen. Larson, the state meat inspection agency "will allow these processors to meet the demand for horse processing, responding to the federal government's disallowing funding for federal inspection of horse processing." The federal government stopped funding horse meat inspection in 2007, effectively shutting down the industry without creating an outright ban of horse slaughter.
A related bill introduced by Sen. Larson, LB 306, would require rescue facilities to accept any horse brought to them by individuals or law enforcement without exception, regardless of whether or not they have the resources to care for the animal.
Rescues would face a fine for every animal turned away. Although the bill places an extra burden on horse rescue operation, it offers no opportunity for government funding of those rescues. According to Larson's website, he believes the bill would contribute to "fostering a culture of humane treatment for animals."
Nebraska rescue organizations aren't buying it.
Valerie Hinderlider, president of a Nebraska rescue called Break Heart Ranch, was quoted in The Grand Island Independent as saying, "There's a reason behind trying to make [horse rescues] the fall guys, to take us under and then say, 'there's nothing to do with the horses,' and so slaughter would be the only option."
Sen. Larson's comments on the bill, published in the Lexington (Nebraska) Clipper-Herald appear to support Hinderlider's assumption.
"Basically, [L.B. 306] would mandate that humane societies and horse rescue operations would have to accept a horse if one was presented to them, or they would face a class four misdemeanor," said Larson. "I'm giving them an alternative. If they don't want us to process horses, what are we supposed to do?"