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The Roundup

Horse Meat Debate Rages On

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Posted 03.04.13

Horse advocates convened in Oklahoma City today to host a press conference during the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board meeting, showing their opposition to two bills working through the state legislature that would legalize the slaughter of horses and the sale of horse meat in the state.

About 120 people showed up to hear Simone Netherlands, director of Respect4Horses; R.T. Fitch; volunteer director of Wild Horse Freedom Federation; Lisa Friday, assistant director for The Cloud Foundation; Dr. Lester Friedlander, former chief USDA inspector; and Ginger Kathrens, executive director of the Cloud Foundation, speak on the state of America’s wild horses and burros, the European horse meat scandal, and House Bill 1999 and Senate Bill 375, which would legalize horse slaughter and allow the sale of the meat to other countries, respectively.

“Equine advocates fear the bills allowing for horse slaughter could eliminate nearly 22,000 wild horses currently held in Oklahoma,” Oklahoma City’s News 9 reported. “The Bureau of Land Management oversees their care, so horse lovers are calling for big changes from the government to ensure iconic Mustangs will be protected.

“The Bureau has moved about 22,000 wild horses from the West to ranges in Oklahoma. It costs taxpayers more than $120,000 a day to keep wild horses in Oklahoma’s holding facilities, such as in Bartlesville, Pawhuska and Foraker.”

Each bill passed its respective house with little discussion and little to no debate. HB 1999 is authored by Rep. Skye McNiel, R-Bristow, who insists it’s “a humane alternative to starving horses being abandoned on rural roads,” the Tulsa World reported.

“Nobody wants horses to be abused. I don’t,” McNiel said.

But without a domestic horse slaughter plant, animals will either be abandoned when their useful lives pass or be sent to Mexico for inhumane slaughter, she said.

Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, debated against the proposal, saying it was bad for the state’s reputation.

“We’re talking about image,” Dank said. “I don’t want people thinking of Oklahoma as the state where you slaughter your horses.”

SB 375, authored by Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro, was originally introduced in January as a one-page bill to repeal the current ban on the sale and consumption of horse meat. At committee, Feb. 11, a substitute bill was read, two pages longer than the original, which made it lawful to sell horse meat only if “the horsemeat is to be exported internationally, the horses are sold through a livestock auction, and the horses are purchased by a livestock dealer.“ That same version was read on the Senate floor, coauthored by Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, who serves on the Public Health Committee, which approved McNiel’s bill for full vote.

McNiel’s family owns Mid-America Stockyards, a livestock auction barn in Bristow, and critics of her bill and of SB 375 have cited this as a conflict of interest.

These bills were made possible in 2011 when President Barack Obama signed into law a bill reversing a five-year ban on horsemeat inspections. But as Forbes Vickery Eckhoff, he didn’t do it by choice. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) removed the language from an agriculture appropriations spending bill, reversing the ban. “This was of course executed at the last moment, allowing Kohl, Blunt and Kingston to hold up the appropriations bill until a government shutdown loomed,” Eckhoff reported. “The tactic worked as planned, forcing President Obama to sign, despite a 2008 campaign promise to ban horse slaughter and the export of horses for slaughter.”

2007 saw the closure of horse slaughterhouses—two of which were in Texas, and one in Illinois. Both of those states saw their slaughter bans challenged this year and both maintained them.

“If (horse) slaughterhouses so good for economy, environment, horses and the horse market, then why don’t (those states) want them back?” said Stephanie Graham. “Texas is one of top five states in nation for horses per capita.” New Mexico is another state considering horse processing.

Graham, a neuromuscular therapist and longtime horse lover, said in an interview last week that the Oklahoma bills seem to have been fast-tracked—pushed through their committees and houses with little debate or opportunity for public discussion. “My gut tells me they’re not interested in what public has to say,” she said. “They’ve maneuvered and manipulated behind the scenes even prior to the bills being introduced. It’s been my feeling that they’re going to pass these bills.” But, she said, Gov. Mary Fallin’s office getting a lot of calls from state residents and from folks out of state who are in opposition to the bills. “I think (the legislature) has discounted the Oklahoma citizens who’ve called in and said, ‘I don’t want this in my backyard.’ ”