OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma could soon allow the slaughter of horses for human consumption, ending a ban that has been in place in the state for close to 50 years, under a pair of bills easily approved Wednesday in the Oklahoma Legislature.
Both the House and Senate passed separate bills that would end the ban and allow a horse slaughtering plant to open in the state. Both measures still would ban the sale of horse meat for consumption in Oklahoma, but would allow for the meat to be exported to other countries.
Rep. Skye McNiel said passage of the bill could provide a humane option for unwanted, aging horses, many of which are abandoned or eventually shipped to horse slaughtering facilities in Mexico. She said where she lives in rural Oklahoma, older horses often are abandoned on dead end roads or pastures by people who can no longer afford to care for them.
"Nobody wants horses to be abused. I don't," said McNiel, R-Bristow, who said during debate on the bill that she grew up riding horses. "They have value as live animals. Why can't they have value after they're done with their usefulness? Why can't they have value as a dead animal?"
Opening a slaughterhouse for the iconic animal with an integral part in the state's history sends a bad message to the rest of the country, argued Rep. David Dank.
"We're talking about image here," said Dank, R-Oklahoma City. "I don't want people talking about Oklahoma as the state where you're slaughtering horses."
Cynthia Armstrong, the Oklahoma state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said the argument that a slaughterhouse provides a humane option for abandoned horses is a false one.
"They have no interest whatsoever in rescuing broken down, starving horses," Armstrong said. "Statistics show that over 92 percent of the horses that go to slaughter are in good shape.
"The overwhelming majority of horses that go to slaughter are not starving, neglected horses out on somebody's property. They're quarterhorses."
She said the humane way to dispose of a horse is to have it euthanized by a veterinarian and either buried or taken to a rendering plant. Armstrong also complained both bills are being "fast-tracked" through the Legislature before opposition mounts.
Lawmakers complained they've already received dozens of calls from people opposed to the idea of slaughtering horses for human consumption.
Rep. Don Armes, who debated in favor of the bill, said one woman who telephoned his office called him a "despicable human being."
"This isn't about eating horses, folks," said Armes, R-Faxon. "We don't eat horses in America."
A horse meat scandal has roiled Europe after it was detected in food products labeled as beef across the continent. Horse meat has turned up in frozen supermarket meals such as burgers and lasagna, in beef pasta sauce, on restaurant menus, in school lunches and in hospital meals.
Horse meat is largely taboo in Britain and Ireland, though it is eaten in European countries such as France, Belgium and Italy. It also is eaten by many in China, among the traditionally nomadic people of Central Asia and in parts of Latin America.
House Bill 1999: http://bit.ly/VwMkLx
Senate Bill 375: http://bit.ly/Ynzkoa
Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy