WASHINGTON – A coalition of celebrities, race track leaders and others is pressing for action on legislation that would end or limit the slaughter of wild horses.
Lawmakers have tried for years to stop the killing of wild horses and burros at three U.S. slaughterhouses that send the meat for consumption overseas.
The effort gained momentum last year after Congress replaced a 34-year-old ban on selling wild mustangs and burros with a plan that allows the sale of older, unwanted horses.
One current proposal would stop the commercial sale of wild horses and burros. A second measure would ban the slaughter of horses in the United States.
"When you've got a coalition ranging from (country singer) Willie Nelson to ("Desperate Housewives' star) Nicollette Sheridan, we've got something for everyone," said Nancy Perry, the Humane Society of the United States' (search) vice president of government affairs.
The move last year by Congress did not condone slaughter of the animals. But 41 of the nearly 1,000 wild mustangs sold and delivered this year were brought to slaughterhouses. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., a lead sponsor on the two House measures, said that confirmed his fears.
The Interior Department this week stopped delivering mustangs to buyers while it investigates whether the slaughter violates a federal contract requiring the animals to be treated humanely.
Horse advocates solicited comments from actors -- including Richard Gere and Mary Tyler Moore -- and drew support from horse racing leaders and others.
Thomas Meeker, the president of Churchill Downs Inc. (search), parent company of the legendary Kentucky race track, sent a letter of support. Ford Motor Co. (search), maker of the Mustang sports car, this week offered financial support to save the lives of 52 mustangs.
But the opposition is strong and includes ranching groups that say horses eat habitat needed by cattle.
In addition, not all horse groups back the proposals. The National Quarter Horse Association (search) believes the government has spent too much to keep unadoptable horses at sanctuaries.
Tim Case, the association's senior manager of public policy, said his group also worries about what would happen to the horses that are now slaughtered, if the practice were ended.