Outside groups line up on both sides of horse slaughter debate
Advocates for resuming horse slaughter in Oklahoma decry out-of-state critics, saying it’s an issue for Oklahomans alone to decide. But pro-slaughter groups from outside Oklahoma also are influencing the discussion.
Sen. Mark Allen, of Spiro, sponsor of a bill to allow horse slaughtering to resume in Oklahoma, laid it on the line at a rally for advocates of the legislation: “If you’re an Oklahoman and have a concern, call our office. If you’re out of state, we don’t need to talk to you.”
The warning to outsiders followed the March 4 anti-slaughter rally in downtown Oklahoma City organized by national animal rights groups and what slaughter advocates said was harassment of legislators by out-of-state callers.
But out-of-state groups, including one led by wealthy Indiana businessman Forrest Lucas, are active on the pro-slaughter side as well, spending thousands of dollars on radio ads and helping organize lobbying efforts on behalf of the legislation.
Protect the Harvest, of Davenport, Iowa, has 60-second radio spots favoring slaughter running on stations across Oklahoma, calling on Oklahomans to contact their legislators and the governor.
The ads accuse radicals of spreading lies about Oklahoma farmers and ranchers. The Humane Society of the United States is spending millions to put agriculture out of business, they say.
A group started by a Hermiston, Ore., horse trainer sent emails urging “everyone within striking distance” to show up at the state Capitol for Wednesday’s rally supporting the legislation.
“Anytime you energize the agricultural, rural grassroots, you have an overwhelming response,” said Erik Helland, a former Iowa state representative who grew up on a seventh-generation Iowa family farm and is a founding board member of Protect the Harvest.
Oklahoma horses are among an estimated 160,000 U.S. horses slaughtered for meat in Mexico and Canada each year. Much of that horse meat winds up in Europe and Asia.
The last of three U.S. horse slaughterhouses, in Texas and Illinois, closed in 2007 — in Texas because of an appeals court ruling on a 1949 state law, and in Illinois after slaughter was outlawed there, according to an analysis prepared by the Oklahoma Commerce Department.
Congress had withdrawn funding for federal horse processing inspections in 2005.
Oklahoma has prohibited the sale of horse meat since 1963. Two bills in the Legislature, SB 375 and HB 1999, would allow slaughter of horses to resume but would prohibit sale of horse meat for consumption in Oklahoma.
Dave Duquette, 47, trains reining and reined cow horses in Oregon, where he went into the business in his 20s after serving in the Marines.
He said he started United Horsemen because he felt there was not a voice for his interests in “all the major horse groups that claimed to be protecting us.”
The horse industry has “never taken a hit like it’s taking now,” Duquette said. Basic saddle horses that used to be worth $1,200 to $3,500 sell for a fraction of the price now, he said.
“It’s a direct effect of the end of horse slaughter,” Duquette said.
Duquette said he has 20,000 people on his email list.
He had people lined up from five surrounding states for Wednesday’s pro-slaughter rally at the Capitol “but they wanted Oklahoma people to be there,” he said.
The Oklahoma Farm Bureau took the lead in promoting the event.
“I’ve been more of a helper to get horse people there,” Duquette said. “When they decided they wanted it on a certain day we got the word out.”
Lucas, founder of Lucas Oil Products, is chairman and founding board member of Protect the Harvest.
Helland said Protect the Harvest is targeting rural Oklahoma voters with its statewide radio campaign and with a social media campaign through Facebook.
He declined to say what Protect the Harvest is spending, though records show its spots on KTOK, 1000-AM in Oklahoma City, cost $6,600 over a two-week period.
Ads were placed by Victory Enterprises of Davenport, a political and corporate consulting and communications firm founded by another former Iowa state representative, Steve Grubbs, who formerly was chairman of the Iowa Republican Party.
The Humane Society of the United States is a particular target of Protect the Harvest.
The group has an Oklahoma state director, Cynthia Armstrong, who has organized opposition to the horse slaughtering bills. Helland said farmers and ranchers “very much feel under fire” by the Humane Society.
The threat of outsiders telling Oklahomans how to manage agricultural policy was a theme running through Wednesday’s pro-slaughter State Capitol rally led by the Farm Bureau.
Terry Detrick, president of American Farmers and Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union, said advocates regretted criticism and harassment directed toward the bills’ sponsors by “fearmongers from other states.”
Rep. Skye McNiel, R-Bristow, author of the House bill, said out-of-state animal rights extremists needed to “start discussing facts instead of playing on the emotions and sensationalizing this issue.”
And House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, said legislative leaders were drawing “a line in the sand” with the bills.
“We’re here to make the statement loud and clear that Oklahomans will not be intimidated by outside interest groups telling us how we should take care of Oklahomans,” he said.