At a time when Europe has been struggling with the horsemeat affair, Oklahoma’s Senate and House chambers have embraced two bills that would end its horse slaughter ban for commercial purposes while prohibiting the sale of horsemeat for human consumption in the state’s market.
Animal-rights advocates—including the Oklahoma state director for the Humane Society of the United States, in an interview with Allvoices—strongly oppose these bills, arguing they would legalize violent acts toward animals and would be devastating to Oklahoma’s reputation.
Slaughtering horses for human consumption has been illegal in California, Oklahoma, Illinois and Texas. Oklahoma is about to become the first state to lift a slaughter ban that dates back to 1963, in order to export horsemeat abroad.
Food Safety News reports that Senate Bill 375 allows horsemeat to be exported internationally, while House Bill 1999 would allow horses to be slaughtered in Oklahoma but would continue the existing domestic ban on the sale of horsemeat for human consumption.
Cynthia Armstrong, the Oklahoma state director for the Humane Society of the United States, told Allvoices in an exclusive interview that the two bills would pave the way for opening a horse slaughter plant in Oklahoma.
“We are devastated by that, we don’t want that in Oklahoma,” Armstrong said. “We are known as a horse-friendly state. Oklahoma City has been the horse show capital of the world—it hosts more equine events than any other city in the world. Having a horse slaughter plant open in Oklahoma would be devastating to our reputation, not to mention horrible cruelty to animals that go to that plant.
“So we, the citizens of Oklahoma, are fighting very hard to defeat these two bad bills and make sure that that doesn’t happen in our great state.”
Slaughter plants existed in the US until 2007; since then, American horses have been exported to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada. After the adoption of two controversial bills in the state Senate and house chambers, animal-rights advocates have been concerned that Oklahoma might become a horse-slaughter instead of a horse-show capital of the world.
Food Safety News reports that the abandonment of aging and starving horses has sharply increased in Oklahoma and other Western states since last horse packinghouse closed more than seven years ago.
However, Armstrong notes that there are no official reports detailing an increase in the number of abandoned horses. Pro-slaughter groups may have pushed the story in order to justify their actions.
“When you have economic downturn such as we had in the United States in 2008, you are going to see more people not be able to keep their animals, and that includes dogs and cats as well as farm animals and horses,” Armstrong argues. “But that is not a justification for opening a horse slaughter plant at all.”
Armstrong says there are 9 million horses in the US. About 10 percent, or 900,000, die naturally every year or are put down. In her opinion, the 100,000 to 140,000 horses that are currently being slaughtered each year could easily be absorbed by the horse-owning population, meaning there is no need for them to be slaughtered.
According to Armstrong, another lie told by the pro-slaughter interest is that horses in the US are starving and being neglected on some farmer’s lands. “That is not the truth. Ninety-two percent of the horses that go into the slaughter pipeline are young and healthy horses, and 60 percent of the horses that are going to slaughter are quarter horses,” says Armstrong.
Slaughter plants that previously existed in the US were owned by foreign companies, and Armstrong is convinced the same scenario could be realized again. She claims that some of those foreign companies have been lobbying in different US states for quite a while, even though people have overwhelmingly been telling them: “We don’t want you here.”
Those plants could also have a potentially bad influence on local communities and the environment. According to Armstrong, the towns in Texas that had slaughter plants documented terrible problems, including plummeting property values, increased crime and water pollution.
Finally, one of the pro-slaughter arguments is that even if the horse slaughter plant was opened in Oklahoma, it wouldn’t be Americans who would consume the horsemeat.
“There are two issues here,” Armstrong explains. “One is that the horsemeat could get into the regular beef supply. The other is that these legislators are giving themselves a level of comfort saying, ‘What do we care? We are not going to eat it in Oklahoma. We are just going to ship it to the Europeans.’ The horsemeat is full of things that people shouldn’t be consuming.
“Should Oklahoma be known as a producer of toxic food and ship it to the rest of the world?”
Oklahomans will have the opportunity to share their views about the two controversial bills with their elected officials in the Sixth Annual Humane Lobby Day on Thursday, March 7, at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. The Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Oklahoma Alliance for Animals invite their members and supporters to participate in the event.