PAST Act (HR 3268)
Facts on the PAST Act (HR 3268)
Ted S. Yoho, DVM
Update 10-25-16: I have submitted to Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, a Member-led, bipartisan letter, supported by 180 of my colleagues in the House of Representatives, urging the agency to finalize the proposed horse soring rule [Docket No. APHIS-2011-0009] before the conclusion of the current Administration. In addition, the letter requests that the agency maintains the PAST Act provisions in the final rule, which have been included in the proposal. It has become a vital mission of mine to end this cruel practice of horse soring while I am in Congress.
The PAST Act has wide bipartisan support, with 50 Senate cosponsors and 251 House cosponsors so far, and the Senate Commerce Committee already approved S. 1406 last year on April 9th. It’s time to pass the PAST Act to finally bring an end to the indefensible cruelty of soring.
PAST Act will save the industry, not destroy it
- Those involved in the Big Lick faction of the Tennessee Walking Horse world have had over 40 years to clean up their act and fix this problem. They haven’t done it. They’ve just gotten more sophisticated at inflicting pain on their horses, covering up the abuse, and working the political process to prevent anyone from getting in their way.
- The opposition to PAST is basically those who are already breaking federal law, cheating to win prizes, committing terrible acts of cruelty and profiting from it, and their defenders in Congress. It’s like dog fighters coming to Congress and saying, “don’t do anything to make the federal law any tougher – we want to keep getting away with dogfighting and not have anyone get in our way!”
- This faction doesn’t speak for the whole industry. The majority of those in the show horse world are strongly advocating the PAST Act to deal with morally repugnant behavior that is giving their industry a major black eye, pulling down attendance at shows, costing them corporate sponsorships, and driving down their breed registry and prices for horses.
- The PAST Act is endorsed by more than 60 horse organizations including the American Horse Council, the veterinary community including the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, and state veterinary groups in all 50 states, National Sheriffs’ Association, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, all major animal protection organizations, key individuals who’ve spent their whole lives in the Tennessee Walking Horse show world, and many others (see full endorsement list).
- The PAST Act will not destroy the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, but rather will save it from imploding as a result of the bad actors who are dragging the breed down.
- An estimated 10% of all Tennessee Walking Horses are shown in the “Big Lick” classes. These animals are subjected to soring and forced to lift their front legs in this extremely high gait to compete in those events. While these performance classes have declined tremendously in recent years due to increased public awareness of the cruel soring that makes the Big Lick gait possible, competition in the other classes that involve the rest of the breed is growing. The PAST Act will allow those who are trying to play by the rules to finally be free of the stigma that the bad actors bring on the whole industry.
Purported high compliance rate is a sham
- Opponents of the PAST Act claim that horse soring is an exceedingly small problem and they have it all under control with their industry self-policing. They’ve trotted out various numbers (e.g., 96.7%) to portray a very high rate of compliance with the Horse Protection Act.
- First, they count only violations found by their own inspectors – not those found by USDA when it does spot inspections. The USDA Inspector General made clear in its 2010 audit that there’s a huge discrepancy between the rate of violations identified by the industry-selected inspectors vs. by USDA inspectors and the industry-selected inspectors are grossly undercounting violations due to conflicts of interest. According to USDA, 85% of the violations cited in 2013 were found at the small fraction (about 10%) of shows that USDA was able to attend.
- Second, they count the entries of all horses of all divisions of competition, instead of discussing the compliance rate among the horses who would predominantly be affected by the PAST Act – i.e., the Big Lick horses. According to USDA, Big Lick horses made up 94.2% of all HPA violations in 2013.
- Also according to USDA, 74% of horses randomly tested at shows attended by USDA during 2010-2013 had been treated with soring and/or numbing agents.
Not a new federal law
- Congress tried to put an end to soring more than 4 decades ago, passing the original Horse Protection Act in 1970. This is not a new area for the federal government. It’s just a question of fixing the existing law to make it finally effective.
Won’t cost federal government or taxpayers more
- The PAST Act is not expected to increase the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cost estimate for the identical bill in the 113th Congress (S. 1406) concluded, “Enacting
S. 1406 would not affect direct spending.”
- The PAST Act is manageable within the annual HPA appropriations. USDA will be able to redirect its enforcement efforts and resources in a more efficient way that actually gets the job done rather than spending tax dollars in a futile effort to enforce the Act by relying on failed industry self-enforcement.
- USDA currently spends much of its modest annual HPA enforcement funding checking up on the “Horse Industry Organizations” (HIOs) that have been empowered to enforce this law.
- Under the PAST Act, USDA will no longer have to oversee what the HIOs are doing. Cutting out that middleman will save the agency time, energy, and money spent now trying to watch the “fox who’s guarding the henhouse.”
- Inspectors will not be USDA employees, but independent contractors - so there will be no new cost for the government. And it will still be optional – not mandatory – for show management to hire inspectors. But if they do, the PAST Act will ensure that the inspectors are legitimate. USDA will license, train and assign them, and they will be accountable to the agency.
- USDA currently trains inspectors, conducts spot checks by agency veterinarians to check on the integrity of inspectors in the field, maintains an online database of violations, and does other HPA enforcement activities, but this work is too often thwarted by those in the middle with conflicts of interest who, for example, don’t provide the agency with timely or complete data on violations and pressure their inspectors not to write citations.
- Since 94% of current HPA violations involve Tennessee Walking, Racking, or Spotted Saddle Horses wearing chains, stacks, and weighted shoes, enforcement costs should actually go down over time when these devices used to sore horses are no longer allowed in the show ring.
Therapeutic use of devices will still clearly be allowed
- The current Horse Protection Act already provides clear exception in its definitions: “The term ‘sore’ when used to describe a horse means that…(D) any other substance or device has been used by a person on any limb of a horse or a person has engaged in a practice involving a horse, and, as a result of such application, infliction, injection, use, or practice, such horse suffers, or can reasonably be expected to suffer, physical pain or distress, inflammation, or lameness when walking, trotting, or otherwise moving, except that such term does not include such an application, infliction, injection, use, or practice in connection with the therapeutic treatment of a horse by or under the supervision of a person licensed to practice veterinary medicine in the State in which such treatment was given.”
- The PAST Act specifies which kinds of devices are prohibited, also clearly exempting protective and therapeutic uses of devices. It prohibits the “use of a weighted shoe, pad, wedge, hoof band, or other device or material at a horse show, horse exhibition, or horse sale or auction that – (A) is placed on, inserted in, or attached to any limb of a Tennessee Walking Horse, a Racking Horse, or a Spotted Saddle Horse; (B) is constructed to artificially alter the gait of such a horse; and (C) is not strictly protective or therapeutic in nature.” It also prohibits the “use of an action device on any limb of a Tennessee Walking Horse, a Racking Horse, or a Spotted Saddle Horse at a horse show, horse exhibition, or horse sale or auction,” and explicitly provides in the definition of action device, “(A) The term ‘action device’ means any boot, collar, chain, roller, or other device that encircles or is placed upon the lower extremity of the leg of a horse in such a manner that it can – (i) rotate around the leg or slide up and down the leg, so as to cause friction; or (ii) strike the hoof, coronet band, fetlock joint, or pastern of the horse. (B) Such term does not include soft rubber or soft leather bell boots or quarter boots that are used as protective devices.”
- Obviously, the PAST Act won’t eliminate all horseshoes on Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, or Spotted Saddle Horses. The legislation expressly allows for the continued use of any shoe that is not constructed to artificially alter the horse’s gait, and is strictly protective or therapeutic in nature.
Three named breeds are uniquely vulnerable to soring
- The PAST Act specifically bans the use of action devices, weighted shoes, pads, wedges, hoof bands, and other devices or materials in the three named breeds – Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, and Spotted Saddle Horses – where it’s known that their use is associated with soring.
- For the other breeds, which do sometimes wear lightly weighted shoes, pads, etc., they’re not being used to cause pain and they wouldn’t produce a Big Lick gait, so the PAST Act doesn’t need to address that.
Alternative bill (S. 1161) doesn’t mean new scientific approach or effective reform
- Those supporting Senator Alexander’s alternative legislation claim it will introduce objective, science-based, peer-reviewed inspection techniques.
- But the methods now in use already meet the criteria in S. 1161’s definition as objective, science-based, and peer-reviewed.
- The veterinary community considers manual palpation (feeling the horses’ pasterns) to be a reliable means of identifying pain responses in horses – a legitimate, objective tool very well recognized by veterinarians. While some of the individuals cited for HPA violations complain that manual palpation is administered in a way that provokes the horse to flinch or pull the leg away, if a horse has not been subjected to soring, that horse will not react to manual palpation. Scientific analysis has demonstrated that horses who have not been subjected to soring will not react to the pressure of an algometer (force gauge instrument used to measure sensitivity to pressure) – even when that device is set to cause more pressure than an inspector can produce manually with his or her fingers during digital palpation. See https://www.soundhorseconference.com/pdf/1%20USDA%20Algometry.pdf.
- Other science-based inspection methods already in use include swabbing and chemical testing to detect illegal soring and masking agents; thermography to spot abnormal temperature patterns – abnormal heat indicating pain/inflammation and abnormal cold indicating use of numbing agents – as well as to detect scars indicative of soring; and x-rays to reveal pressure shoeing and insertion of hard foreign objects, or abnormal rotation of the coffin bone in the hoof, caused by intentional misuse of stacks.
- S. 1161 was designed simply to impede the reforms recommended by USDA’s Inspector General and incorporated into the PAST Act. S. 1161 would codify the status quo of industry self-policing, actually making it worse by strengthening the hand of the bad actors who need oversight. It won’t do anything to eliminate the use of devices that the veterinary community and American Horse Council have said are absolutely integral to the practice of soring. And it won’t strengthen penalties to provide a meaningful deterrent.