Legislation that would ban the use of most double-deck trailers for the inter-state transportation of horses in the United States has been passed by the House of Representatives.
The Horse Transportation Act was part of a large legislative infrastructure package, the Moving Forward Act, which progressed through the House this week. The wider act contains several provisions that benefit animals.
To become law, the Moving Forward Act must be passed by the Senate before September 30.
The Animal Welfare Institute commended the House for backing the horse safety transport provisions and the measures that provide benefit to other animals.
The Horse Transportation Act (HTSA), led by Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN), Peter King (R-NY), Dina Titus (D-NV), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), seeks to ensure that horses are not subjected to dangerous and inhumane conditions during transport.
The Animal Welfare Institute has long spearheaded the passage of this legislation, first introduced in 2008, to ban transporting horses in vehicles that endanger both animals and motorists.
“Horses deserve to be transported in as humane a manner as possible,” Cohen said.
“Double-deck trailers do not provide adequate headroom for adult horses, and accidents involving double-deck trailers are a horrendous reminder that the practice is also dangerous to the driving public.”
The impetus for the HTSA was a horrific accident in 2007 in which a double-deck trailer carrying 59 Belgian draft horses overturned in Wadsworth, Illinois, killing 19 horses.
The tragedy spotlighted what the institute describes as the reckless practice of cramming horses into trailers designed for much shorter and stouter animals, such as cattle and pigs.
The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends at least a 7 or 8-foot clearance for horses; double-deck trailers usually have a ceiling clearance of 4 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 5 inches, which typically does not allow horses to stand comfortably or even fully extend their heads and necks inside.
Moreover, because horses cannot maintain proper balance, they are at higher risk of injury from falling. Horses can also sustain injuries while being loaded onto the steep ramp of a double-deck trailer.
The US Department of Agriculture banned the use of double-deck trailers to transport equines to slaughter in 2011, citing concerns that such vehicles could prove top-heavy and prone to tipping.
Although no horse slaughter plants currently operate in the US, tens of thousands of American horses are shipped across the border each year to Canada and Mexico to meet a grisly end in foreign slaughterhouses that kill horses for human consumption.
When the USDA issued its regulations, the department was unequivocal in its findings that double-deck trailers are inappropriate and unsafe for transporting adult equines, in large part because horses are far more likely to be injured in double-deck trailers than in single-deck trailers that can better accommodate their height and overall size.
The HTSA’s provisions would finally close the loophole that allows non-slaughter-bound horses to travel across state lines in a motor vehicle containing two or more levels stacked on top of one another.
“It’s absurd that a practice deemed too inhumane for horses sent to slaughter remains legal for other horses being moved around the country,” said Joanna Grossman, the institute’s equine program manager.
“No horse should be forced to endure a difficult and long journey in a vehicle known to cause injuries to the animals inside while endangering others on the road. We applaud the House for recognizing the importance of horse safety in setting transportation goals.”
The wider legislative package also invests in wildlife and public lands conservation programs that promote biodiversity and create jobs. It dedicates $US75 million a year to wildlife crossing projects to reduce collisions with vehicles, and provides critical funding for states, tribes, landowners, and federal agencies to identify and protect wildlife corridors.
Moreover, the bill authorizes $US3 billion for coastal and Great Lakes resilience and restoration efforts, and creates a grant program to build flood resilience along shorelines. H.R. 2 allocates $50 million per year to addresses deteriorating infrastructure on public lands to preserve watersheds and habitat, recreational access, and clean drinking water.
Kitty Block and Sara Amundson, writing in the Humane Society of the United States blog, A Humane Nation, also praised the animal-friendly provisions in the broader packager.
Block, the society’s president and chief executive, and Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said the organization was grateful to the House for recognizing the great safety risk that double-deck trailers posed to horses and humans.
“The horses are at risk of serious injury because there is not enough space overhead for them to stand upright, which can cause them to fall during transport. Cramming them into trailers not meant to carry animals this size can greatly increase chances of major accidents on the roads.”
“The package now moves to the Senate and we’ll be pushing to secure passage of these measures there.”
The pair urged people to contact their senators to encourage them to support the Moving Forward Act, “and for making our highways safer for wildlife and horses”.
“It’s a worthy investment in the future of our nation.”