Bo Derek's Washington Roundup

Actress Bo Derek has been on Capitol Hill drumming up support for an anti-horsemeat bill.
Actress Bo Derek has been on Capitol Hill drumming up support for an anti-horsemeat bill. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 15, 2006

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.

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