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US calls for end to ‘inhumane’ double-decker trailers for horses

US animal welfare campaigners against the use of “inhumane” double-decker trailers to transport horses hope a ban may finally be in sight.

Joanna Grossman, equine protection manager for the Washington DC-based Animal Welfare Institute, has been speaking of the need to include provisions of the Horse Transportation Safety Act in upcoming federal transportation legislation.

“The image of injured and dying horses strewn along a highway is difficult to shake,” Dr Grossman said.

“In 2007, a double-deck trailer carrying 59 Belgian draft horses overturned after colliding with a pick-up truck in Illinois. The accident was so severe, it took more than five hours for authorities to extricate the suffering horses from the mangled trailer, which was designed to transport cattle and hogs.

“Sadly, 19 horses died from the crash.”

The incident sparked outrage, and led to the introduction of the Horse Transport Safety Act, a federal bill, the following year. The bill would ban transporting horses across state lines in vehicles of two or more levels, and so “promote public safety and animal welfare”.

Dr Grossman said the bill had had broad support but, “like many animal protection bills”, stalled at the committee stage of government. In 2010, it was passed unanimously by the House of Representatives’ transport committee, but was never put before the full house for a vote.

The bill is now being sponsored by 132 politicians, and backed by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) as well as the Humane Society of the United States and the Animal Welfare Institute.

“So it may finally reach the finish line,” Dr Grossman said. “The transportation and infrastructure committee is drafting a massive transportation package in advance of a 30 September deadline to reauthorise federal transportation legislation. This presents an ideal opportunity to include a provision that would bar transporting horses in vehicles that endanger both animals and motorists.”

Dr Grossman added that the potential for “catastrophic” accidents is not the only concern.

“The use of these trailers is inhumane and can lead to debilitating injuries,” she said.

“Double-deck trailers are meant to haul animals such as cattle and hogs who are much shorter and stouter than horses. The ceiling clearance in these compartments is woefully inadequate to allow the horses to stand comfortably with their heads up once crammed inside. The AVMA recommends at least a seven- or eight-foot clearance for horses, which these multi-level trailers cannot provide. Most double-deck trailers max out at a ceiling height of just under five and a half feet.

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“The US Department of Agriculture [USDA] itself concluded that these vehicles ‘do not provide adequate headroom for equines’, and that horses are far more likely to be injured in double-deck than single-deck trailers that can better accommodate tall animals. Indeed, the USDA specifically banned the use of double-deck trailers for transporting horses to slaughter, citing concerns that such vehicles could prove ‘extremely top-heavy and prone to tipping’.

“Although no horse slaughter plants currently operate in the United States, 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. It is ridiculous that a practice deemed too inhumane for horses sent to slaughter remains legal for other horses being moved around the country.

“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, but noted that only slaughter-bound horses fell under its statutory authority. Enacting broader limitations would require a new legislative remedy.”

Dr Grossman said opinion polls show that Americans “overwhelmingly want to see horses protected from harm”.

“These animals should not be forced to endure long journeys in cramped conditions that can lead to serious injuries and brutal deaths,” she said.

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