April 22, 2013
Tennessee TV Ads Call for Governor to Veto Whistleblower Suppression Bill
The Humane Society of the United States places television ads against bill to ban undercover investigations
At a press conference at the state capitol, The Humane Society of the United States and Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville District 13, screened a new television commercial showing violent abuse of horses from an investigation into the Tennessee walking horse industry. The commercial is the latest effort by The HSUS to urge Gov. Bill Haslam to veto SB1248, the special interest “ag-gag” bill.
The commercial, which began airing across Tennessee this weekend, is the latest effort by The HSUS to stop the passage of SB1248, which would make it a crime for investigative journalists and organizations to document and expose inhumane and illegal activity in horse stables and at industrial agriculture facilities. The bill narrowly passed the House with a bare minimum of votes and is heading to Gov. Haslam for action.
In 2011, an HSUS investigation into Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell’s stable in Collierville, Tenn., revealed shocking cruelty to horses. The investigator recorded horses being whipped, kicked, shocked in the face and intentionally burned with caustic chemicals. As a result of that investigation, a federal grand jury handed down a 52-count criminal indictment and a state grand jury indicted McConnell and two others for 38 counts of criminal animal cruelty.
Leighann McCollum, Tennessee state director for The HSUS said: “This commercial highlights the important role undercover investigations play in exposing inhumane practices that otherwise would remain hidden from the unsuspecting public. We are calling on Gov. Haslam to veto SB1248 and stop the animal cruelty cover-up.”
The crimes at McConnell’s stables would have never come to light but for The HSUS’ undercover investigation, which exposed a culture of lawlessness and cruelty that has thrived within the Tennessee walking horse show industry.
In 2010, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General released a damning report, concluding that “The practice of soring has been ingrained as an acceptable practice in the industry for decades” and that the “APHIS’ [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] program for inspecting horses for soring is not adequate to ensure that these animals are not being abused.”
The narrator in The HSUS commercial states, “Tennessee politicians have passed a bill to silence whistle blowers, covering up the abuse and protecting the next Jackie McConnell.” The ad also highlights the fact that Tennessee newspapers have joined in opposing this special interest legislation.
- The 2010 USDA Office of Inspector General audit of the Tennessee walking horse industry exposed how players in the walking horse industry work to evade detection, rather than comply with federal law and train horses humanely.
- The results of testing conducted in 2012 by USDA to detect the use of prohibited foreign substances on the pasterns of horses at horse shows indicate that 65 percent (309/478) of the samples tested positive for prohibited foreign substances. Most troubling, 76 percent of horses tested by the USDA at the 2012 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, the largest and most prominent walking horse show in the country, tested positive for illegal agents while the industry’s own testing only resulted in 2 positive results.
- An analysis of the violation history of the top 20 trainers in the industry’s 2011 Riders Cup “high point program” found that every trainer on that list had been cited for soring violations between 2010 - 2011, with a total 164 violations among them. Only seven percent actually served suspension penalties – and of those, all but a handful were for a mere two-week period. Many of the trainers and judges who participated in the 2012 Celebration also have records of soring violations. In addition to the top 20 trainers, there were 195 violations of the Horse Protection Act cited for trainers ranking from #21 – #74. Forty-two out of 53 of those trainers were cited during this two year period.
- Members of the U.S. Congress recently introduced the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act to fortify the Horse Protection Act and crack down on soring abuses. In a poll conducted last fall by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, 75 percent of Tennessee voters statewide said they support stronger federal legislation to prevent the cruel practice of horse soring. Every demographic group and political affiliation strongly favored strengthening the laws against soring.
- Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO, sent a letter to Gov. Haslam stating that if SB1248 is signed into law, “it may indeed backfire, and result in more public mistrust and skepticism about the workings of the Tennessee walking horse industry at a time when it is already suffering a drastic decline in popularity due to the stigma of soring.”
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