In an open congressional session on the Tydings’ Past Act, on July 24, 2019, Kurt Schraeder stated “In addition to outlawing action devices and stacked shoes, the Past Act will also end the unsuccessful system of industry self policing that we tried for almost 40 years…..Our bill will require the USDA to create a process to train, license and assign and oversee impartial inspectors, hopefully veterinarians among others, that can detect and diagnose horses that have been sored.” The Past Act will also require the USDA to “publish information on sorers so the folks managing the horse shows competition and sales know who’s broken the law and abused their horses.”
The publishing of violators that Schraeder says this bill will provide already exists. The Office of Administrative Law Judges publishes those who have been found guilty of of violating the Horse Protection Act by Initial Decision and Default Decision (failure to answer the Complaint), as well as Consent Decisions (many opt to consent to a fine and/or a suspension and often do not admit guilt that a violation occurred). See https://oalj.oha.usda.gov/current and https://oalj.oha.usda.gov/current.
The USDA also publishes a federal suspension list on their website. As of August 12, 2019, there were fourteen individuals on suspension. Three were found guilty through an Initial Decision; two by failing to answer the Complaint, and the other nine are serving a suspension but are not all are considered guilty due to the language of their Consent Decisions.
Congressman Buddy Carter spoke in favor of the bill by saying, “Although the practice of soring is already banned and the industry takes action to police itself, there are still examples of this occurring in the United States. Additionally, loopholes and federal law often disallow the United States Department of Agriculture from taking action against those individuals who are soring their horses. That’s why this bill is so important.” This statement is erroneous. There are no loopholes or federal laws that disallow the USDA from prosecuting violators of the Horse Protection Act. The existing law gives the USDA authority to prosecute criminally in Federal Court, as well as civil prosecution under the Administrative Procedures Act.
When Scott Desjarlais opposed the Past Act and asked for support of his bill, which calls for scientific based inspections, Kurt Schrader responded “I would just point out the bill referenced is just another self policing…. The Past Act has the science behind it…” and Ted Yoho followed by saying “This bill, we sat down with specifically the USDA and APHIS, the regulating body of the USDA on animal cruelty and we made sure, being a practicing veterinarian, that the owner was protected and that the trainer was protected from an over zealous USDA inspector. They have to be certified and trained and they have to be licensed. This is something we added – the objective testing. We used thermography. We used radiology. We do swabs of the skin. In fact, we use the same technology that our Department of Homeland Security picks up – you know traces of explosives and things like that.”
This bill does not implement scientific testing. The USDA has been using thermography and radiology since the 1980s; gas chromatography since at least 2005 (skin swabs); blood testing; and they use iris scanning to ensure horses are not swapped around. See https://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/animal_welfare/content/printable_version/FS-HorseProtectionAct-Final.pdf and https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalwelfare/hpa/ct_hpa_inspections_examinations The USDA’s records reveal swab samples were taken for gas chromatography testing of only 316 swabs out of 1498 horses in 2017 and 520 horses out of 1638 horses in 2018. Obviously, the science currently is only randomly used, and positive swab results are misleading because they do include positive results for fly spray, horse shampoo, and every day equine products that are not associated with soring.
The claim of failed self policing is deceptive. It is the USDA who certifies and licenses Horse Industry Organizations (HIO), who hire impartial inspectors and jointly train them with the USDA. The USDA has the ultimate authority to cancel the license of any inspector if his or her inspection procedures do not meet their requirements and/or decertify a HIO for noncompliance with the law.
Keep in mind that this bill purports to be needed due to the horrific rampant soring, but the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, according to the USDA’s own numbers, show an overall compliance rate of 97.1% in 2017 and 95.6% in 2016, well above any other USDA administered program, including the Food Safety and Inspection Service.
The allegations of failed self policing stem from Ron DeHaven, former Administrator of APHIS and former CEO of the AVMA. In 2013, a year after leaving APHIS, DeHaven testified before congress on another version of the Past Act that “action devices may facilitate soring and performance packages may assist in avoiding its detection.” Although the science to support the Past Act is lacking, DeHaven supported changing the Horse Protection Act from a commerce law to a humane law, and testified “Specifically, this bill makes the actual act of soring, or directing another person to cause a horse to become sore, illegal, whereas the current Horse Protection Act only bans showing, transporting, auctioning or selling a horse that is sore, not the actual practice.”
Horse Protection Act is a benefit to all equines and all people competing in equine activities. The bias against the Tennessee Walking Horse will never end until the Senate directs the USDA to apply the law apply to all breeds equally.