Horse Processing Bill Becomes Law
Oklahoma is joining 46 other states in allowing the slaughter of horses for meat after a bill raced through the state legislature.
House Bill 1999 signed by the governor would allow horse processing plants into the Sooner State for sale outside of the US.
But, there hasn’t been a horse processing plant in the United States since it was banned in 2007 and reinstated in 2011.
Any facility could still be years away allowing debate on this subject to continue for some time.
In eastern Oklahoma County on 20 acres of land, the equine rescue organization known as Blaze’s Tribute takes care of dozens of recued horses.
Natalie Cross introduces us to an eight-year-old grey quarter horse that goes by the name of Tic Tac.
Tic Tac was one of 17 horses who survived an accident on I-35 as they were being taken to Mexico for slaughter in 2010.
Blaze’s Rescue worked tirelessly to rescue those horses rather than sending them back for slaughter, and Natalie remembers all too well when the rescued horses came onto her land.
“They’re all just bright eyed and you can tell that they knew exactly what was happening. They didn’t look scared. It wasn’t fearful. They knew that they were being saved and it’s just a whole different aspect when you rescue a horse that you know should have been on somebody’s dinner plate when you look into your eyes.”
Oklahoma has outlawed the slaughtering of horses since 1963.
Horse slaughter plants across the country were shut down in 2007 when the practice was banned by the federal government, but that ban was lifted in 2011.
Now, House Bill 1999 would allow for facilities to operate in the state as long as the meat was shipped out of state.
Supporters say this will reducing the number of sick, neglected or old horses
Pinto Horse Association of America supports the legislation.
Executive Vice President Darrell Bilke says especially since the drought started in Oklahoma, there’s been growing concern over what to do with unwanted horses.
“They’re starving them to death, you know people can’t afford to feed them and one of our main concerns is when these people cannot afford to feed them take care of them, abuse them, the next thing is they’re going to start turning them loose down the country roads the highways.”
The Pinto Horse Association says it will continue its work to find good homes for healthy horses before resorting to a slaughter house.
While several farmers and ranchers came to the Capitol to support the bill, a survey from Sooner Poll shows opposition from rural and urban Oklahomans.
The poll shows 66% of Oklahomans oppose the bill, including more than 65% in the rural parts of the state.
The bill’s author Representative Skye McNeil of Bristow says she believes it will help spark the economy by putting more people to work.
“They are good paying jobs and they are jobs that we want. It’s a whole industry from transporting to more people having horses. We’ve lost a lot of the hobby horse owners and it’s unfortunate. And so we need to get those people back. We need to revive the horse industry.”
Currently there aren’t any horse processing plants in the United States and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service or the FSIS says it doesn’t have an inspection program in place because the federal government banned the practice for four years. It just became legal again in 2011.
In a statement to KOSU, the agency says a plant in New Mexico and one in Missouri have each applied for inspection.
But, given that the last inspections were six years ago the FSIS would require a significant amount of time to update its testing and inspection processes.
This gives more firepower to the Oklahoma Humane Society.
Cynthia Armstrong says the horse slaughterhouses in the past have caused problems in the communities where they were located.
“Sewage overflow, environmental degradation and property values plummeting. They’re not good corporate citizens they are community killers.”
Supporters also say it could take more than three years before a plant is up and running.
Assuming Oklahoma can overcome all the obstacles to opening a horse plant, we’ve heard lots of controversy in the past few months about horse meat because of contamination of the beef supply in Europe.
So is the quality of meat from horses any different?
Pam Patty, a registered dietician at Integris Southwest in Oklahoma City says looking at its base level; horse meat isn’t much different from beef.
“Horse looks like it’s got all of the essential amino acids that beef would have so we don’t really see a deficiency as it not going to be a superior meat. It’s going to be very comparable.”
On the other side of the argument, opponents point to many of the vaccines and other drugs given to American horses which could be dangerous to humans.
But Representative McNiel, the author of the bill says that contamination will never be an issue because the meat would be shipped out of the country and never mixed with the Oklahoma beef supply.
Back at Blaze’s Tribute, Natalie strokes Tic Tac and feeds him treats.
She says a young horse like him should never have been selected to be on a dinner plate.
“You can see how much more they have to give back to you, but it’s a feeling at I just can’t describe, but when I look at him everyday I appreciate him even more, because I know where he should have been and thankfully he didn’t end up there.”
House Bill 1999 now signed into law goes into effect on November First of this year.