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An interview with an activist February 8, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Horse Slaughter.

Horse slaughter is back in the news and I recently completed an interview with Gail Vacca. She is the Illinois Coordinator of the National Horse Protection Coalition.

The Horse Protection Coalition’s mission is: “simple and specific: to pass H.R. 503 and S. 1915, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act and end the brutal industry practice that leads to the slaughter of America’s horses.”

Gail answered a few questions about the USDA’s announcement of a fee-for-service program allowing horse slaughtering to continue unabated, some questions about her general stance on the issue, and some background questions.

The interview follows:

FTG: What repercussions do you think will exist for the USDA and FSIS regarding today’s announcement of a fee-for-service inspection program? Are there going to be any at all?

GV: Oh, I absolutely think that there will be repercussions. I fully expect that the direct slap in the face delivered by the USDA to Congress, and the American people, will result in rapid advancement and passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503 and S 1915). In a way the USDA and the horse slaughter plants did us a favor, because now Congress is chomping at the bit, pun intended, to pass permanent protection for the horses.

There are also potential legal ramifications of the USDA’s actions, which are being explored by a law firm that has been retained by several well known national humane organizations.

FTG: Why do you think Congress has failed to act and out and out ban horse slaughter altogether? For instance, instead of banning horse slaughter they just cut off funding for horse slaughter inspections.

GV: Truth be told, the amendment to the FY 2006 Ag Approps bill was never our ultimate goal. The goal has always been passage of the AHSPA. The amendment was simply a way to spare the suffering of tens of thousands of horses until we could get both permanent bills out of committee and onto their respective floors for a vote. In essence we were trying to save as many as we could, until we can get them all protected.

FTG: How can today’s announcement be reversed?

GV: I don’t know that it can be reversed, but I’m sure that the tremendous volume of comment the USDA will no doubt receive about this underhandedness, will certainly make them rethink what they are doing. Just an FYI on this, when the slaughter plants petitioned the USDA to allow them to pay for their own inspectors, they also requested that USDA NOT allow for the public comment period as is required by law! Amazing, no? The plants had the nerve to say that they felt it was in the “best public interest” not to allow for comment on this issue!

FTG: Anything else you would like to add?

GV: Only that no matter how one feels about horse slaughter, whether you are for it or against it, all of us should be concerned about this blatant act of disregard for our legislative process by the USDA. This is an agency whose mandate is to uphold the laws of our land, but it is instead working 24-7, bending over backwards to accommodate the very industries they are charged with regulating. The level of corruption in Washington is downright frightening. Ours is no longer a government “for the people, by the people”, it is now the government for who ever has the most money and is willing to share it with the bureaucrats on the Hill.

FTG: You used to live in DeKalb, where at, what was it like? Why did you move?

GV: Yes, I leased a small but lovely horse farm just south of DeKalb on Rte 23. I moved a few months ago, mostly because my clients were not comfortable sending their extremely valuable racehorses to a farm that was so close to a horse slaughter plant. They were concerned about the real threat that their horses could be stolen and quickly disposed of at the plant. That and it was extremely stressful for me to have to witness double decker cattle trucks of doomed horses routinely driving by my farm on their way to Cavel. It made life a truly miserableexistencee for me when that plant reopened.

Also, there were several times that my horses inexplicably would begin to freak out. At certain times, while turned out on the north pasture of my farm (about a mile as the crow flies from Cavel) my horses would become alarmed and panicky. They would refuse to leave the area of the pasture closest to the barn, and would ultimately need to be brought back into the barn because they would become so worked up. This only seemed to happen on kill days, so all I could figure is that with their keen sense of hearing, it was likely that they could hear the horses screams at the plant. Enough was enough, it was time to move.

FTG: You mentioned “kill days,” when were/are these, how often, any idea how many horses etc..?

GV: Cavel generally kills horses on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. These are the days that their contracted kill-buyers are required to deliver their loads, although it is not out of the question for an occasional load to be brought in on non-kill days, or theoccasionall non-kill-buyer horse(s) to be brought in on these days. They kill anywhere from 100-200 horses on a typical kill day. They usually allot Tuesdays and Thursdays to getting the meat prepared and transported to O’Hare for delivery to Belgium.

FTG: (A no brainer, I had to ask though) What is your position on horse slaughter, why?

GV: Gee, cant you tell? 100 percent against it of course!

As for the why, there are a million reasons, but foremost I’d have to say, because of the cruelty. Horses are very sensitive, intelligent, trusting beings. The physical abuse they suffer during transport to slaughter, the line up to slaughter at the plants and throughout the slaughter process itself is horrific. The emotional abuse they suffer throughout this process is equally as inhumane.These are animals who are not unlike your pet dog or cat. To slaughter these animals is the ultimate betrayal of their trust of mankind. We owe all of our pets/companion animals, no matter the species, a humane life and a humane death. It is the least we can do as responsible stewards.

FTG: For what reasons do you believe this industry has persisted?

GV: I can sum this up in one word.. MONEY. The industry existssolelyy to supply a product, horse meat, for which there is a demand.

FTG: Describe your association(s) with horses, where do your equine interests lie? (i.e. why are they near and dear to you).

GV: I have been a licensed trainer of thoroughbred racehorses for over 25 years. Prior to that, I rode top level hunter/jumpers at the highest level, on the east coast where I was born and raised. I have also been a riding instructor for some 30 years, and have been lucky enough to teach children of all ages andabilityy levels throughout the course of my career.

My love of horses began with a pony ride at age 4. My grandfather made the big, and costly, mistake of taking me for that first ride. That was that, I was hooked.

I see the same starry-eyed bewilderment now in the children that I teach to ride. Horses are a fascinating and bewitching species. Once they have you under their spell, you are theirs forever!
FTG: What is your opinion of groups like the Animal Liberation Front (connected to the Cavel West arson in Redmond, Oregon) and the Earth Liberation Front, who have resorted to often illegal “direct action”?

GV: I loathe violence and/or illegal activity and anyone who would resort to it.Extremistt groups like this have made it far more difficult for mainstream, normal thinking, peaceful animal welfare groups to advance the standards of care and treatment for animals.

FTG: What are some of the biggest horse slaughter “myths”?

GV: The absolute BIGGEST myth/lie is that horse slaughter is humane euthanasia. The plants use this propaganda to fool uneducated horse owners into believing that they perform some sort of necessary function in the horse world. Duh,when is the last time you heard of a truck load of cows going to the slaughter plant to be euthanized?

Coming in a close second to this would be that ending horse slaughter will cause horses greater suffering, as neglect and abuse will rise when people no longer can dispose of “unwanted” horses. This is yet more slaughter plant propaganda. Statistics disprove this rubbish, and yet the plants and their allies continue to spew this garbage every chance they get. Just another meat industry ploy to tug at the heartstrings of those who are not well versed on the issue.

FTG: Anything you’d like to add that I didn’t cover?

GV: I don’t think so. I’d just like to thank you for doing such a great job in bringing attention to this most important issue. I’ll be sure to keep you up to speed on any movement of the bills and other avenues we are pursuing.

FTG: Thanks, Gail.


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