How the GAO Deceived Congress;
And opened the way for horse slaughter to return
By: John Holland, Equine Welfare Alliance
GAO report 11-228 is titled HORSE WELFARE Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter. It was issued in June of 2011.
This document has been the main claim to legitimacy of those who wish to bring horse slaughter back to the United States. It has been quoted by the national press, and referenced in virtually every political debate on the issue. It was even sighted as evidence in Valley Meats vs. the United States Department of Agriculture, and countless other documents.
But GAO-11-228 is completely devoid of supporting data and is constructed of fraudulent misrepresentation and hocus-pocus analysis stuck together with the unsubstantiated opinions of anonymous “officials”.
The report has been widely criticized since its release, but only recently has data surfaced to prove it is, in fact, fraudulent and intentionally designed to deceive Congress. The report’s inaccuracies begin with its title, and by the end of the first page the case for its deceit is sealed.
How the GAO deceived Congress about horse slaughter (VIDEO)
In 2006, Congress passed the agriculture budget with the “Ensign/Byrd” amendment that removed the funding for horse slaughter inspectors. The defunding was delayed by a conference committee until March, 2007, and then by court challenges. By the time the defunding was in place, all the US plants had already been shut down by state laws, but the defunding assured no new plants would open in the US.
In January of 2011, six months before the report was released, Charles Stenholm of the horse slaughter lobby firm Olsson, Frank and Weeda announced to a pro-slaughter conference in Las Vegas that the report would be favorable to them. This leak was first acknowledged and then refuted by the GAO.
In June, 2011 the report was finally issued and within months it had the desired impact. The Senate did not include the defunding language in its version of the agriculture budget. Since the House did have such language (the Moran Amendment), the matter was decided in conference committee. The vote was 3 to 1 in favor of stripping the language and restoring funding for
inspectors. The three members voting to strip it were Senators Kohl and Blunt, and Representative Kingstoni. These were the very individuals who had requested the report!
Why the GAO did the study
The GAO works for Congress as a fact finding organization. It established an exemplary reputation in the past for finding and analyzing data that could assist Congress in its decisions. We will show that reputation is no longer deserved. The first page of report 11-228 contains all the information needed to completely discredit it if the reader has access to the data cited.
There are three sections on the first page of the report: Why GAO Did This Study, What GAO Found, and What GAO Recommends. This is as far as most readers venture. The evidence of the report’s deceit can be found in the first two sections, making the third irrelevant.
Notice in the second paragraph of Why GAO Did This Study it states “Congress directed GAO to examine horse welfare since the cessation of domestic slaughter in 2007.” Indeed, the report itself is titled “HORSE WELFARE”.
The GAO ignored its mandate
The very next sentence says GAO examined the effect on the US horse market (i.e. horse prices at auctions) and any impact these changes had on horse welfare.
In other words, GAO ignored its mandate to study welfare and instead studied prices. They then attempt to link the two with the opinions of anonymous veterinarians.
Thus the first half of the title of the report is inaccurate, since it does not study horse welfare.
The reason for this complete disregard for its assigned task will become obvious when we analyze the section What GAO Found.
What the GAO Found
Paragraph 1 of What the GAO Found begins by admitting that the number of horses slaughtered did not diminish, but that their slaughter merely shifted to Canada and Mexico:
At this point the study could have concluded, saying that with no change in slaughter, there could have been no impact. Thus the second half of the title is also inaccurate since there could have been no consequences, intended or not.
Yet the report goes on to make the case that there was a negative impact. In making this case the authors expose their deceit.
The second paragraph contains proof of fraudulent intent
This paragraph alone contains proof of the fraudulent intent of the report’s authors.
It begins by complaining that national data is lacking but claiming they were told by various organizations that horse neglect and abandonment had been increasing.
The second sentence contains the only statistic about equine welfare in the entire report and it is not only demonstrably misleading, but it also shows that the GAO knew full well that there was state data available about abuse and neglect and that they chose to ignore the data and study prices instead.
Hidden in plain sight
The deceit is hidden in plain sight in the second sentence. It says “For example, Colorado data showed that investigations for horse neglect and abuse increased more than 60% from 975 in 2005 to 1,588 in 2009.”
The example of Colorado is supposed to demonstrate the impact of the closings, but the plants closed in 2007, not 2005 and the GAO had access to data through 2010. By fudging the dates, the GAO blamed two years of increasing abuse on something that had not even happened yet and conveniently got rid of one year of declining abuse by omitting 2010!
Press falls for the bait and switch
The intent of this one “example” was clearly to provide the reader an impression of the scale of the supposed increase in abuse and neglect and to offer at least some statistical proof of their claims. In doing so, they counted on nobody having access to the full Colorado data.
The AP’s Jeri Clausing (and other reporters) paraphrased the finding:
“In Colorado, the GAO report states, investigations for abuse and neglect increased more than 60 percent after horse slaughter was banned domestically, from 975 in 2005 to 1,588 in 2009.”
The insertion of the phrase “after horse slaughter was banned domestically” was, of course, not true; but it is exactly what the GAO intended the reader to think the report had said.
Figure 1 – Colorado Dept of Agriculture data
By using only two data points, the GAO made it sound like abuse and neglect had continued to increase after the closings and hid what was really happening in Colorado and many other states. Abuse and neglect had been increasing between 2005 and 2008, when it peaked and began a decline. And we know the GAO study included data from 2010 since they said so in their discussion of the number of horses that were slaughtered.
Report claims abuse increasing when it was decreasing
This paragraph proves that the GAO knew that at least some states kept records of the number of cases of abuse and neglect. At the minimum, they knew Colorado had the numbers, and they acknowledged to EWA that they had looked at data from Illinois on the EWA website. Data was also available from at least four more states, and all of it disagreed with the claim “state, local government and animal welfare organizations report a rise in investigations for horse neglect…”