By Barbara Shelly, Kansas City Star, 5/13/10 (reprinted with permission) http://www.kansascity.com/2010/05/13/1944469/puppies-and-horse-meat-missouri.html
Citizen initiatives shouldn’t be squelched permanently because of a paranoia fueled by agricultural interests.
The best thing about the Missouri General Assembly is that sessions have a drop-dead date. At 6 p.m. today the 2010 extravaganza will mercifully end.
Until then, you might want to keep your animals under lock and key.
Over the last few months, lawmakers have:
- Proposed a way to make it legal to slaughter horses and sell their meat.
- Tried to block a citizen initiative that seeks to regulate puppy mills.
- Warned darkly about out-of-state groups trying to end animal agriculture as we know it in Missouri. This year, they want to save the puppies. Next year, it might be cows.
If a list were to be made of the Missouri legislature’s many quirks, its suspicion of animal protection measures must rank high on the list.
Attempts to outlaw cockfighting failed until 1998, when voters got the job done through an initiative petition. Lawmakers warned that criminalizing cockfighting was just the first step to a ban on hunting. Twelve years later, Missourians still hunt.
Now the action has shifted to the dog-breeding operations that make Missouri the nation’s leading puppy producer. Election boards are certifying more than 190,000 signatures gathered in an attempt to regulate dog breeders. Some lawmakers are trying to block that vote.
More about that later. First, the horse meat measure, which the House approved by a 30-vote margin.
Yuck, one might say. Is it even legal to eat horse meat?
Not in this country. But it is in some European and Asian nations.
“If you served overseas in World War II, you were served horse meat,” said Rep. Jim Viebrock, a Republican from Republic, Mo.
Congress effectively shut down horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. in 2006 by pulling funding for meat inspectors. Horse meat can’t be shipped overseas without an inspection stamp.
Viebrock’s House bill aims to get around that obstacle by having slaughterhouses pay a fee to the state, which would reimburse the U.S. Department of Agriculture for inspections.
Viebrock and others say the slaughterhouse closings caused an increase in horse neglect. But the economy is probably more of a factor. And it’s not like animals targeted for slaughter have great lives. Look at hogs and chickens.
I’m for economic development in Missouri. But horse slaughter? I say neigh.
A conference committee echoed that sentiment Thursday, which means horse slaughter isn’t likely to be resurrected this year. But until the clock strikes 6 p.m., anything can happen.
The same applies to attempts by House and Senate members to preempt the statewide vote on puppy mill regulations.
“There’s no question in my mind that agriculture is under siege,” said Sen. Bill Stouffer, a Republican from Napton, Mo., during a debate this week.
There’s that leap. A push for humane conditions becomes an attack on agriculture.
Rural lawmakers want to amend the state constitution to say that only laws “based upon the most current industry standards and enacted by the General Assembly” could regulate agriculture.
In other words, lawmakers support the right of citizens to take their causes to the ballot — except when it comes to protecting animals or protecting people from the effects of animals. Presumably, their efforts would preclude citizens from filing petitions to, say, create a barrier against hog farms.
It could be, as lawmakers contend, that Missouri’s problem with unsavory dog breeders results from the state’s poor performance in enforcing laws. Audits criticized the Department of Agriculture for lax performance.
But if that’s the case, we should have an open debate. Citizen initiatives shouldn’t be squelched permanently because of a paranoia fueled by agricultural interests.
A cockfighting prohibition didn’t impede hunting in Missouri. And I’ll bet that, 12 years from now, we’ll still be raising cows for consumption.