Opposition to horse slaughter raises levels as Oklahoma joins states seeking plant approvals

Ire concerning slaughtering horses in the United States has risen at even previously unprecedented levels since Oklahoma Governor Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin recently overturned a 50-year state ban on slaughtering horses

Governor Fallin’s signature on HB1999, a horse slaughter bill, allows Oklahoma to join several other states now vying for United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspections that they need to operate horse slaughter plants that were shut down in 2007.

The Oklahoma bill, which passed 82-14 in the House and 32-14 in the Senate, goes into effect November 1.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has been the subject of considerable controversy since signing into law a bill allowing horse slaughter in Oklahoma
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has been the subject of considerable controversy since signing into law a bill allowing horse slaughter in Oklahoma

Federal tax dollars are used to inspect meat produced in the U.S., whether it’s sold and consumed here or in other countries.

Oklahoma’s new law stipulates that the horse meat produced there will be for export only.

Governor Fallin stated that slaughter would improve horse welfare for thousands of horses that she suggests are being abused or are otherwise taking long, dangerous journeys to Mexico and Canada where they are claimed to meet gruesome deaths.

Critics say the industry benefits several U.S. stakeholders, including Representative Skye McNiel, who introduced the bill and whose family-owned horse auction in Bristow, Oklahoma, stands to profit.

“A key early initiative is to muster resources to oppose bills now pending in Congress that would ban the transportation of horses to other countries for the purpose of slaughter,” stated United Horsemen, a group formed by Wyoming Rep. Sue Wallis to represent slaughter stakeholders.

The third argument for reopening equine slaughter plants in the U.S. is that it would give ranchers “a way to dispose of our old, diseased, lame horses,” said Bill Bullard of R-CALF, headquartered in Montana.

Although several states including California, Illinois and Texas outlawed horse slaughter, it’s not banned in the United States as a whole.

Companies wanting to process horses for meat must apply to and be approved by the USDA, but none have succeeded so far.

With the current laws, if a plant is approved, the USDA must inspect it, according to Valerie Pringle, an equine protection specialist for the Humane Society of the United States.

The bill comes on the heels of continued concern about tainted meat in Europe as well as the introduction of the SAFE Act in the United States, which would ban horse slaughter.

Pringle expressed concerns about meat tainted with medication used for human consumption.

The 160,000 or so U.S. horses that are annually slaughtered for export could have been vaccinated with phenylbutazone, “bute,” a common painkiller. While harmless to horses, bute is a carcinogen, according to the National Toxicology Program.

Eating U.S. horses, according to Tufts Veterinary professor Nicolas Dodman, “is about as healthful as food contaminated with DDT.”

“USDA currently has no present program for keeping them out of the food supply, a problem acknowledged by the European Union( EU), which has banned the import of U.S. horse meat pending receipt of a USDA drug-residue testing plan,”  said John Holland, president of the Equine Welfare Alliance.

“Once received, it could take years to audit and approve,” according to Frederick Vincent, spokesperson for Health and Consumer Policy for the European Commission.

“This is an Oklahoma issue,” said state Senator Mark Allen, when asked to address how the EU ban on U.S. imports of horse meat would affect Oklahoma’s horse meat export plans, and why U.S. taxpayers outside Oklahoma should pay for inspection.

The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act was introduced to Congress on March 13, by Senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), as well as Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.).

It would ban the killing of American horses for human consumption and outlaw transporting the animals across the U.S. border for slaughter in Mexico and Canada.

In addition to the usual animal-rights groups, opponents of horse slaughter include horse owners who view horses as companion animals rather than food animals.

“It’s a very sad day for Oklahoma, and the welfare of the horses that will be exposed to a facility like this,” said Cynthia Armstrong, Oklahoma’s state HSUS director.

Some consumers also have opposed the practices as there is no historical tradition of eating horse meat in this country.

Supporters of horse slaughter include some horse associations and other livestock groups which see humane slaughter as the best alternative for old horses.

Fallin said her administration will work with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture to ensure that any horse meat processing plant in the state is run appropriately, follows state and local laws, and does not pose a hazard to the community.

“It’s important to note cities, counties and municipalities still have the ability to express their opposition to processing facilities by blocking their construction and operation at the local level,” Fallin added

Katherine Minthorn Good Luck, representative of the National Tribal Horse Coalition, reports that the National Congress of American Indians has passed a resolution supporting the reopening of horse processing facilities.

Tribes in at least four states, Oregon, Montana, North and South Dakota, are working to establish humane processing facilities on tribal lands to provide an economic boost, jobs and a use for excess horses on tribal lands.

USDA is said to likely to soon approve a horse slaughtering plant in New Mexico that would allow equine meat suitable for human consumption.

Similar horse slaughtering efforts are under way in Idaho, Missouri and Nevada.

Oklahoma officials have already received an application for a horse slaughter inspection permit from a meat company in Washington, Okla., about 40 miles south of Oklahoma City.