The Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, or PAST Act, may be barn-sour
WASHINGTON D.C.––The ghost of Citizens Campaign Against Big Lick Animal Cruelty founder Clant Seay, also known as the Ghost of PAST Act Failed, may already be rattling stacked horseshoes and chains in the offices of U.S. Senator Bill Haggerty and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Congressional rumor has suggested for months that Haggerty and Vilsack early in 2023 pulled a clandestine horse trade whereby Haggerty released holds on numerous Senate confirmations of high-level U.S. Department of Agriculture appointments, including within the Office of General Counsel, in exchange for Vilsack withdrawing an updated rule to protect show horses from soring.
Walking horses are commonly obliged to wear stacked shoes and chains to induce the “Big Lick” goose step, and often then further suffer from legs and feet purposely sored to make them step even higher.
Haggerty, a Republican from Tennessee, is ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.
Vilsack, formerly Iowa governor, has been Agriculture Secretary throughout both the Barack Obama and Joe Biden presidential administrations.
Trump stalled the anti-soring rule
Introduced by the USDA in late 2016 to reinforce the Horse Protection Act of 1970, the updated anti-soring rule had not yet been published in the Federal Register when former U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January 2017.
Trump immediately froze all federal rulemaking. His Agriculture Secretary, former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, kept the show horse protection rule in limbo, while “Big Lick” show horses suffered with no relief in sight throughout the Trump administration.
Seay and the Citizens Campaign Against Big Lick Animal Cruelty throughout both the Obama and Trump presidencies staged protests at every walking horse show they could get to, heightening awareness of soring among the public, cutting deeply into “Big Lick” show attendance and profits, and increasing political pressure on Congress to enact the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, or PAST Act for short.
Senators from “Big Lick” states stall the PAST Act
Originally introduced in Congress in 2013, the PAST Act would do most of the same things to protect horses as the withdrawn USDA rule. The PAST Act cleared the House of Representatives in 2019 and 2022 by margins of 333-96 and 304-111, but was blocked both times by opposition from Senate Republicans representing what Seay called “Big Lick” states, where “Big Lick” horse shows have historically been big business.
Introduced on May 5, 2023 by House Representatives Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, both Democrats, along with Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Vern Buchanan of Florida, both Republicans, the current version of the PAST Act has been stalled in the House Subcommittee on Innovation, Data, and Commerce since May 12, 2023.
Back while the 2022 edition of the PAST Act still alive and moving, the Humane Society of the U.S. in July 2022 won a ruling that Trump had illegally frozen the soring rule from a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The rule that was to have taken effect in 2017 was then supposed to take effect in late 2022, after the “Big Lick” show season was mostly over, but Vilsack delayed it.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on March 8, 2023 announced Vilsack’s appointments to the top USDA offices: Prescott Martin III as Senior Counsel in the Office of General Counsel; Nathaniel West as Senior Oversight Counsel in the Office of General Counsel; Tracy Fox as Legislative Advisor in the Office of Congressional Relations; Victoria Maloch as Special Advisor in the Office of Communications; and Malcom A. Shorter as Acting Assistant Secretary for Administration.
On July 20, 2023, with Senate confirmation of those appointments still pending, USDA spokesperson Richard A. Bell announced “a proposal to withdraw a final rule that was on public inspection in the Federal Register on January 20, 2017.
The USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service “has for several years been working to update and strengthen our regulatory framework under the Horse Protection Act,” Bell asserted.
“Following several regulatory and legal developments,” claimed Bell, “this withdrawal is a necessary step that will allow the agency to move forward in strengthening the Horse Protection Act regulations with transparency and appropriate public input.
The USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service “will soon propose a new rule to strengthen Horse Protection Act requirements,” Bell said, “incorporating data and the latest science gathered since 2016, including the 2021 National Academies of Science[ report] “Review of Methods for Detecting Soreness in Horses.”
“USDA has taken a backward step”
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken a backward step,” responded Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block and Sara Amundson, president of the subsidiary Humane Society Legislative Fund.
The 2017 rule “was the result of extensive public input and support and had received final approval at the time,” Block and Amundson reminded in a joint statement.
“We’re unhappy with the USDA’s decision to withdraw the rule, and we’ve denounced it,” Block and Amundson said.
“We’re also encouraging public comments to drive home the point that the agency should not pull the rule without committing to a timeline for the implementation of a strong new rule in its place,” Block and Amundson continued.
“The stated purpose of the Horse Protection Act, passed in 1970, is to end soring,” Block and Amundson reminded. “However, the self-policing enforcement scheme allowed by the Horse Protection Act regulations [in effect since 1970] enables industry operatives to train their own inspectors. This system is rife with conflicts of interest and has allowed soring to persist unabated.
“USDA data,” Block and Amundson said, “reveals that in events between 2018-2020 at which horses were examined by industry inspectors and USDA inspectors, the USDA inspectors found violations at a rate 403% higher than industry inspectors, illustrating that industry inspectors turned a blind eye to soring.
USDA pledged to abolish self-policing
“In response to an audit by the USDA Inspector General that called this scheme a failure and said it should be abolished,” Block and Amundson continued, “the agency pledged in 2010 to replace industry self-policing with a system that relied on USDA-licensed and trained inspectors.
“In 2017, the agency announced final regulations to do so. Those regulations received more than 100,000 supportive public comments, including bipartisan letters signed by 182 Representatives and 42 Senators.”
These were the regulations stalled by the Trump administration.
Block and Amundson went on to make nice with Trump throughout his four years in office, winning nothing of substance for their trouble.
HSUS says “neigh” to further stalling
“Now,” said Block and Amundson, “the USDA has communicated its plan to proceed with a new Horse Protection Act rule that has sat stagnantly at the White House’s Office of Management & Budget for review since September 2022. Yet the agency states that it cannot promulgate that rule within six months, and it provides no timeline for when that rule might be proposed, let alone finalized.
“In short,” Block and Amundson concluded, “withdrawing the 2017 final HPA rule leaves in place the unlawful regime that existed prior to its finalization, indefinitely. We’re not satisfied with this approach.”
Block and Amundson then resumed banging the drums for the PAST Act, now numbered H.R. 3090.