Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Actress Bo Derek and Others Work the Slime of Washington to Attempt to Put an End to Horse Slaughter: Politics and Horse Meat 101

There are a few reasons why I posted this article:

One, it shows the nature of the political system and how access is granted – rich or famous.

Two, shows how a celebrity can use their name for good.

Three, it again brings up the issue of horse slaughter showing that this issue is very much still open.

Four, it shows that other celebrities are also working hard on this issue.

Lastly, it shows the unfortunate reality of the popularity of horse meat around the world.

I really respect her for going out and doing all that hard work. It must suck to have to shake hands with such slimy scum. She could very easily just go sit in her mansion. Instead, she’s gotten off her butt and is working on a very important issue.


Bo Derek's Washington Roundup
The Equine Activist Takes A Horsemeat Head Count


By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 15, 2006; D01

For stallion tartare, mash together five ounces of minced USDA-inspected lean horsemeat with an egg yolk, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Flatten one side of the ball to position it on a plate. Pop some parsley, red onion and capers on top. Serve with tomato ketchup and olive oil. And, voila , that's one way they do it in Paris.

But if actress-turned-activist Bo Derek can turn enough heads -- and change enough minds -- the French won't be eating horsemeat imported from the United States anymore. Neither will the Belgians, the Italians, the Japanese or anyone else for that matter.

Derek has joined a stampede of celebrities -- including Willie Nelson, Whoopi Goldberg and Christie Brinkley -- and other hard-core horse lovers to try to shut down three European-owned horsemeat factories in the United States. Two are in Texas, one in Illinois.

Last month the House of Representatives passed the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, which prohibits the transportation and sale of horses for human consumption. A similar bill is being considered by the Senate, but it's unclear -- given all the other pressing issues -- whether the matter will come to a vote before Congress adjourns for the year.

The horsemeat issue boils down to a few irreconcilable differences. Opponents of the horsemeat ban say it's a property rights issue: Horse owners should be able to do whatever they want with their horses. They say the ban is not in the best interest of horse welfare because it will lead to the unregulated handling of unwanted horses. And, opponents say, it's a matter of cultural chauvinism: In this age of global upheaval, who is the United States to be telling anyone what they can or cannot eat?

Those in favor of the bill, united by the Washington-based Society for Animal Protective Legislation, argue that horses deserve a respectful death and burial. They decry the way horses are transported to, and handled in, the slaughterhouses. They say that the United States tells other countries what to do all the time -- why not on this issue. They also believe that horses should not be roasted, grilled, baked, battered, buttered, fried or tartared.

"This legislation doesn't stop a horse owner from shooting the animal and burying it in the back forty," says Derek, 49. She is eating a quick bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios in a Senate office building cafe before a second day of closed-door meetings with legislators. But, she adds, "as Americans, we don't eat our horses."

Known primarily for playing scantily clad characters in the decades-old movies "10" and "Tarzan, the Ape Man," Derek is wearing more concealing clothes today -- a black business suit, white top and heels. A pro-Bush Republican, she is aware that as a national sex symbol she receives special treatment. Even enemies of the bill want their pictures taken with her. With long blond hair and blue eyes, she is still, after all these years, attention-getting.

She pulls a congressional directory from her purse to check some notes, then returns to the conversation. Her first appointment this morning is with Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), one of the prime opponents of the anti-slaughter bill. Derek, flanked by three lobbyists, disappears into Burns's chambers in the Dirksen Building. Based on information from people -- on both sides of the issue -- who were at the meeting, Derek pauses for photos before getting down to business. In Burns's office, the senator tells her that the government shouldn't be telling people what to do with their horses and he says he is concerned about all the unwanted horses that will be dumped on the government's doorstep if the plants are closed.

Derek tells Burns that those concerns are a myth. Horse slaughter is not common in the United States. Last year there were about 90,000 horses slaughtered out of a population of some 9 million. If not bought by the slaughterhouses, she says, unwanted horses would be bought by someone who wants them for hunting or jumping or simply going out riding. More than 90 percent of the horses at auctions are in sound condition, she says.

Her next appointment is with Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), who tells her that his father was a large-animal veterinarian. She poses for pictures in his office as well. As a result of the meeting, Martinez becomes a co-sponsor of the bill.

Between the two confabs she runs into Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) in the hallway. He stops to shake her hand. She doesn't make small talk; she asks him right off where he stands on the bill. He says he would like to leave it the way it is -- in consideration but not up for a vote.

A dissenting voice from one senator, she says, can keep a bill from reaching the floor for an up or down vote. "One man can stop it," she says later. "Which is a shame."

For Derek, whose 2002 autobiography is titled "Riding Lessons: Everything That Matters in Life I Learned From Horses," this is a very personal issue. She oversees a 130-acre spread in Santa Ynez, Calif. At one time she owned more than 30 horses; now she has six. There is a difference, she says, between horses and cows. "Cattle aren't wild anymore. We breed them to be docile. Horses are bred to be feisty, flighty and responsive to our affection."

The history of this country, she says, is intertwined with a national affection for, and dependence on, horses.

As one of her sidekick lobbyists puts it, "Nobody's riding a cow on statues in America."

Derek says, "I am not a member of any animal rights organization. I am a big red-meat eater. I live in cattle country. I rope; I brand." To Derek, this is all just about horses.

Same with Charles Stenholm, a lobbyist for the horsemeat industry, a cotton planter and a former Texas congressman. "We do contend it's a private property rights issue," says Stenholm in a telephone interview. "A horse owner should have the right to dispose of his horse as he sees fit."

He agrees with the anti-slaughterhouse side that "all animals should be treated humanely, from birth to death."

But, he adds, "with all due sincerity to the naivete of Bo Derek, it is a horse welfare issue. Somebody has got to take care of unwanted horses. There are just not enough people who want to adopt horses."

For Derek and other horse aficionados, Stenholm says, "it is emotional. It is so easy to say that every horse will find a willing owner." He says that is just not the way it is.

When a horse reaches the end of its life, Stenholm says, it can cost $200 to $2,000 to have it disposed of. He says that a horse owner should be offered the chance to sell his horse to a processing plant. The three plants in the United States export 26 million pounds of horsemeat annually.

Stenholm doesn't understand why horse lovers believe that it's okay to have a horse euthanized or composted but not sent to a meatpacking operation. He says that eating is just another form of composting.

People like Derek, he says, "believe that horses are special and should not be processed for human consumption."

He says that others see horses as no different from other animals, such as cows, pigs, turkeys or chickens. And they understand that "if you eat meat, something has to die."

The United States "ought to be real careful about determining what other people eat," he continues. "Some people don't eat meat. I'm for them. When we begin to make a judgment on food we get on very thin ice."

He adds, "This is a very emotional issue."

It certainly is for Anne Russek. A horse breeder in western Virginia, she is among the non-celebrity horse lovers who give a lot of time and money to keep horses from being slaughtered. Russek makes several trips a year to Washington to do volunteer work for the Society for Animal Protective Legislation.

She says she was brought in several years ago to help Derek get her feet wet on the issue. The two women met with congressional aides. Russek says that having Derek on the team has been "instrumental to moving the bill."

And Russek says that while she has been able to lobby her own congressman, "Bo Derek can get to anybody's congressman."

On a recent sunny afternoon, Russek is sitting at a table at the Pink Cadillac Diner that she and her husband Steve own just off Interstate 81 in Natural Bridge. It's a high-spirited joint with a sure-enough pink Cadillac out front and a greasy-spoon menu featuring bacon cheeseburgers and an $8.95 sauteed calf liver dinner.

Horses, Russek says, "are being slaughtered like cows. They're not cows. They are flight animals. They are smarter than cows." White hair, hazel eyes, features fashioned by the outdoors, Russek, 52, says she has adored horses since whenever. She and her husband live nearby on a 30-acre farm. They own 10 horses and a half-dozen dogs, most rescued from shelters.

She adds to Bo Derek's argument by raving against: a pharmaceutical company that makes a drug for menopausal women from an enzyme in the urine of mares; the too-small trailers used to carry horses to their deaths; "kill buyers" who go to auction houses and bid on animals to slaughter; and her congressman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and opposed the horse slaughter prevention bill.

Goodlatte's office confirms that he voted against the bill.

As for the cultural-differences aspect of the debate, says Russek, "I would prefer that Europeans not eat horsemeat, because I am a horsewoman."

The United States, she says, "does not have to provide the horsemeat for that culture."

The history of horsemeat goes back a ways. In his book "Strange Foods: Bush Meat, Bats, and Butterflies -- An Epicurean Adventure Around the World," Jerry Hopkins writes that prehistoric humans hunted and ate horses. Ancient folks may have first raised horses to be roasted rather than ridden. Old Testament law ordained that eating horse flesh was taboo. In the 5th century BC, Herodotus wrote of boiling horses to mix with oxen.

Today the Japanese eat horsemeat sashimi. In the Netherlands, horsemeat is considered a breakfast treat. Horsemeat is sold in some French butcher shops and is on the menu in some of the pricier restaurants.

Alain Sailhac, a master chef at the French Culinary Institute in New York, has a special fondness for horsemeat. He remembers during World War II that there was no beef in his southern French town of Millau, so his mother bought a few ounces of horsemeat and cooked it for his sister, who was anemic. "It smelled so good," he says. "It was very lean. Full of protein. No fat."

It tastes, he says, "a little bit like deer."

Back on Capitol Hill, Bo Derek is taking a lunch break. She says she once ordered horsemeat by accident in France and ate it, thinking it was a hamburger.

She and the lobbyists are going over their notes and deconstructing their morning meetings. Her nightmare is that the issue will get jostled aside by others and won't be taken up before the end of the year. Then, next year, she -- and Anne Russek and Willie Nelson and other horse lovers -- will have to make more trips to Washington to educate a whole new batch of lawmakers.

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