OKLAHOMA CITY – Two bills pending before the Oklahoma Legislature would legalize commercial horse slaughter – a humane alternative for dealing with aging, broken-down animals or a horrifying spectre that would destroy the state’s reputation, depending on which animal lover is speaking.
“The horse is a majestic, wonderful animal that is a great companion animal,” said Rep. Skye McNiel, R-Bristow, author of a bill that would allow horse slaughter for meat sale outside the state. “We just have an overpopulation of them right now, and, unfortunately, there’s just no end for them. They just end up getting starved and abused.”
On the other hand, Cynthia Armstrong, state director of the Humane Society of the United States, says the state must never allow the slaughter of horses.
“Horse slaughter is a death fraught with terror, pain and suffering,” Armstrong said. “We owe our horses a more humane and dignified end than that.”
McNiel’s House Bill 1999 would allow horse slaughter but would continue the existing ban on the sale of horse meat for consumption in the state. The meat would be exported to European countries, where there is a market for it, McNiel said.
Another proposal, Senate Bill 375, written by Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro, would revoke the state’s 1963 law banning the sale of horse meat. That would mean there would be no state prohibition on horse slaughtering or the sale of horse meat.
Allen did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
McNiel said killing horses for human consumption is an emotional issue but a humane step. Horse owners who have no other alternative for dealing with their old animals are turning them out on roads, abandoning them on other people’s pastures or simply allowing them to starve, she said.
“They’re being starved to death, which is a slow, painful death,” said McNiel, a lifelong horsewoman whose family operates a sale barn. “These horses are dying in a very, very inhumane way.”
McNiel said she’s seen aged horses abandoned on roads near her home and on her family’s land.
“I’ve seen it first-hand,” she said.
There are some horse sanctuaries for dealing with the animals – which is wonderful, McNiel said, but there are not nearly enough to deal with the state’s excess population of the animals.
“There isn’t, and there never will be,” she said. “There’s just too many horses.”
Last year a group of investors came to the state looking to open a horse slaughter facility, but when they learned about the state’s slaughter ban, they took their business elsewhere, she said.
“There are no investors at this time, and there may never be investors. … That’s really not the point,” she said. “I don’t have any interest in putting in a processing facility. I don’t know anyone who is, but I do know if somebody comes along that there will be an opportunity for these horses.”
Armstrong dismisses the idea that the slaughter of horses is humane.
“I am appalled at the contention of horse slaughter proponents that slaughter is a reasonable and caring way for people to rid themselves of unwanted horses,” she said. “Real horsemen make sure their horses aren’t put in overcrowded trailers for days, shackled and hoisted, sometimes fully conscious, and then served to someone for dinner in Europe. Horse slaughter is not equivalent to humane euthanasia.”
Horses aren’t raised to be food, and their meat can be toxic because of the drugs the animals have been exposed to, she said.
Rather than killing old horses for food, the Humane Society advocates their sale, retirement to rescue operations or euthanasia.
“Humane euthanasia and carcass disposal is affordable and widely available,” a Humane Society fact sheet says. “Horses who must be euthanized can be managed in a humane and cost-effective manner.”
When horse slaughter plants have been closed in other states, the number of abuse and neglects cases has not gone up, Armstrong said.
“It’s a profit-motivated scheme,” she said. “They will tell you that there’s some altruistic side to it … but quite the opposite is true.”
While horse slaughterhouses are in the business for profit, Armstrong said they do not bring economic development.
After years of trouble with an equine slaughterhouse there, the Kaufman, Texas, City Council voted unanimously to implement termination proceedings against the plant in 2005, according to the Humane Society.
Foreign-owned horse slaughterhouses operating in the United States have been repeatedly fined for violations of local laws and creating sewage overflows, the Humane Society fact sheet says.
While the plants would offer a small numbers of low-wage jobs, their very presence would have a much larger negative impact on the state, Armstrong said.
“It would destroy Oklahoma’s reputation,” she said. “They would be trucking in horses from all over the United States in order to butcher them for human consumption abroad.”