Members of Congress showed a growing understanding of the unintended consequences of the closing of America’s three horse slaughter plants, according to participants in Livestock Marketing Association’s fourth annual Washington, D.C. Fly-In.

Since a series of legislative and judicial actions closed the three plants, LMA President Jim Santomaso said the industry is seeing “more and more reports of abandoned horses, and of horses turned out and left to starve, because owners can’t afford their upkeep, or have the means to properly dispose of them.”

Santomaso, the operator of a Sterling, Colo., market, said LMA members are also reporting that horses are being left at their facilities when they don’t sell, “because their owners don’t want them back.”

Lawmakers, he said, “are ready to listen to the argument that banning slaughter is creating huge problems. For example, the ban takes away individual property rights, when you tell a horse owner what he can and cannot do with an animal that may be at the end of its useful life.”

The LMA representatives made these points in meetings with the chairman or staff members of key panels, including the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, and lawmakers from the members’ home states.

The group, which was in Washington April 27-30, also met with the chair of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) to discuss the unintended consequences of using the appropriations process in removing a humane method of disposal for tens of thousands of unwanted horses.

DeLauro is an outspoken advocate of the horse slaughter ban. Her subcommittee voted to end federal funding for plant inspection, which meant the U.S. plants could not stay open.

The last plant to close was Cavel International, Inc., DeKalb, Ill. State law closed the plant last year, and its legal battle to reopen has led Cavel to the U.S. Supreme Court.

LMA in February filed an “amicus curiae” (friend of the court) brief with the Supreme Court, asking it to overturn the Illinois law and the federal appeals court decision upholding that law.

That law, and the subsequent appeals decision, effectively exempted 40,000 – 60,000 horses from humane slaughter, the brief said. The Cavel plant slaughtered that many horses annually, all under the provisions of the federal Humane Slaughter Act, which applies only to U.S. plants.

“We told the lawmakers that horse owners want and need a legitimate, practical and humane way to dispose of their horses that have come to the end of their useful life, but still have value as a slaughter animal,” Santomaso said.

The “terrible result” of legislation banning this slaughter, he said, “is to close legitimately operated food processing plants, based solely on cultural and emotional arguments. And that sets a very dangerous precedent of banning a legitimate meat product for reasons other than food safety or public health.”

Supporters of the ban, Santomaso said, have been successful in framing the issue “as an emotional one, similar to a person dealing with an ailing pet. What we told members of Congress, and their staffs, is that the horse slaughter issue can, indeed be an emotional one.

“But it’s much more than that. It encompasses humane animal treatment, private property rights, and economic rights. LMA’s member businesses are the marketing agents for thousands of U.S. horse owners.

“These businesses are committed to providing a legitimate and humane outlet for the thousands of horses annually that are no longer needed or wanted by their owners,” Santomaso said.

“We are cautiously optimistic that the people we met on Capitol Hill will keep our position in mind as Congress moves forward on this key issue.”

LMA members taking part in this year’s Fly-In, in addition to Santomaso and his wife, Becky, were Charles Adami, Baraboo, Wisc.; Cal Green, Roanoke, Ala.; David Macedo, Tulare, Calif.; Joey Martin, Williamston, S.C.; J.D. and “Sugie” Sartwelle, Sealy, Texas, and Curt and Heather Sporleder, Unionville, Mo.