By Jeanne LeFlore
A Pittsburg County farmers and ranchers union recently lobbied for equine processing legislation that passed a Senate committee unopposed on Monday.
Although the legislation passed the Senate committee, animal rights activists such as the Humane Society of the United States say the bill legalizing horse slaughter in Oklahoma is nothing more than a “grizzly crutch.”
The Pittsburg County American Farmers and Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union sponsored a lobbying event at the Oklahoma State Capitol Building on March 13, according to Lacie Wedel, communications coordinator for the union.
The AFR/OFU is part of an agriculture and wildlife coalition showing support for HB 1999 and SB 375, authored by Rep. Skye McNeil (R-Bristow) and Sen. Mark Allen (R-Arkoma), Wedel said.
Local legislators Sen. Larry Boggs and Rep. Donnie Condit voted for their respective bills. Rep. Brian Renegar abstained from a vote, citing constitutional privilege. None of three replied to inquiries for comment for this story by presstime.
The legislation amends the Oklahoma Meat Inspection Act by allowing horses, mules or other equine to be transported, manufactured, processed, packed, sold or prepared in Oklahoma as long as the meat is sold on the international market.
Laice said the proposed legislation would provide a “desperately needed outlet” for unwanted horses in Oklahoma.
On Monday, the bill moved forward after members of the Senate agriculture committee voted 9-0 in support of the measure.
Speaking for the union’s support on the measure, Wedel said when horse owners can no longer care for aging or unwanted animals, current options are limited.
The care and feeding of horses is costly and when owners can’t afford an old or sick horse, they have limited or no options, Wedel said.
“Many owners turn horses out to seek food on their own and when neglected or abandoned, these animals die of starvation, illness or predators and become a financial strain on counties forced to care for them,” sshe said.
Union President Terry Detrick said the legislation helps to solve that problem.
“Oklahoma stands poised to take a significant step forward in the care and handling of horses in this country,” Detrick said.
“This bill benefits our state’s rural citizens, business owners and agriculturists, and provides for the responsible, humane harvesting of these horses.”
He said horses that are not abandoned are often transported to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.
He also said legalized state-run and federally regulated slaughter is the answer.
“State-inspected horse slaughter is an all-encompassing solution for the current issue.”
Meanwhile, the proposed legislation has come under fire by the Humane Society of the United States.
Cynthia Armstrong is the state director of USHS.
“We are strongly opposed to this legislation for a number of reasons,” Armstrong said.
“Its a grizzly crutch and it actually perpetuates over-breeding and owner irresponsibility.”
She said legalizing equine slaughter is about money.
“The horse slaughter industry is not around to rescue horses,” Armstrong said. “It’s an economic endeavor.”
And she said the legislation is the not answer to horse neglect.
“Horse neglect occurred when slaughtering was legal,” she said.
She said neglect occurs because of the irresponsibility of the horse owners.
“Legislators need to look at the root cause of the problem which is in part, overbreeding,” Armstrong said.
“They need to consider amending breeding practices.”
She also said slaughtering horses for human consumption is inhumane and creates a serious health risk to consumers.
Although legislation prevents Oklahomans from eating horse meat, it does not prevent the horse meat from being sold to other countries for consumption, she said.
“Its irresponsible to say that the meat is not fit for us to consume yet we can sell it to other countries for that purpose.”
“If it’s not safe for humans in the US how is it safe for any human consumption?” Armstrong said.
Contact Jeanne LeFlore at firstname.lastname@example.org.