Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin is expected to sign House Bill 1999, which will bring an end to the state’s 50-year ban on slaughtering horses.
The bill passed the Oklahoma Senate on a 32-14 vote on Tuesday after being approved 82-14 in the House a month earlier. HB 1999 is now on the Governor’s desk for the routine legal and policy review conducted prior to signing.
“One important fact that the public may be unaware of: Oklahoma horses are already being slaughtered, ” said Aaron Cooper, the Governor’s spokesman. ” They are simply being shipped out of the country to Mexico and killed, in conditions that may be inhumane.”
Oklahoma’s ban on the slaughter of horses for human consumption dates back to 1963. The new bill permits horse slaughter to in the state, but all the meat will have to be exported. The Oklahoma State Department of Health is empowered to inspect any horse-slaughtering facilities in the state.
The ban did not prevent Oklahoma Meat Co.’s owner and manager Ahsan Amil from filing an application for U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection services for a horse slaughter facility to be located in Washington, Oklahoma, about 30 minutes south of the University of Oklahoma campus at Norman.
Oklahoma Meat’s 2012 filing is one of a handful of applications to USDA for equine inspection services since the 5-year federal ban on horse slaughter ended in 2011.
But state Sen. Eddie Fields (R-Wynona) believes USDA has denied the Oklahoma Meat application. Fields, HB 1999’s Senate sponsor, said it might take three years for an qualified equine slaughter facility to be up and running in Oklahoma.
A cattle rancher, Fields also said he thinks Valley Meat Co.in Roswell, NM will likely be the first operation to resume horse slaughter in the U.S.
“If we ever do get a facility in Oklahoma, we’ve got to make sure that they are doing it the best possible way that that process can be done,” he said.
While the support for HB 1999 in the Oklahoma Legislature was overwhelming, it did not come without controversy and even threats of bodily harm against the prime sponsor of the bill, Rep. Skye McNeil (R-Bristow).
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has confirmed that it is investigating threats against Rep. McNeil made by telephone, mail and through social media. McNeil said she found the threats troubling. Threatening a public official can be a felony in Oklahoma. OSBI has original jurisdiction to investigate and bring charges.
While animal rights groups opposed HB 1999, no one at this point is saying any of those organizations are behind the threats.
But the closer the possible return of horse slaughter comes to the U.S., the more intense the passions are on both sides. A new video on the Internet has sparked outrage as it shows a former employee for Valley Meat Co. shooting a horse.
The employee, who blames animal rights activists for causing him to lose his job, apparently acted on his own in making a video showing his walking a horse to a spot on a dirt road. He strokes the horse’s nose and neck, says, “All you animal activists, (expletive) you,” then shoots the horse in the head.
Both the New Mexico Livestock Board and Chaves County Sheriff Rob Coon are investigating the incident, but its unclear if any law was broken. The sheriff says the video certainly “didn’t help anything.” Rick De Los Santos, owner of Valley Meat Co. the threat traffic has become so intense, armed guards have taken up positions around the Roswell facility.
Dallas thoroughbred horse owner and breeder John Murrell, who fought to close the last two horse slaughterhouses in Texas, promised to continue the battle in Oklahoma. He said passage of HB 1999 was a “terrible, sad day” for Oklahoma.
Once Fallin signs HB 1999 into law, only California, Illinois and Texas will still have state bans against horse slaughter. Texas and Illinois were the locations of the last three horse slaughter facilities in the U.S., which were closed by 2007.
State Sen. Al McAffrey (D-Oklahoma City) emerged as the principal opponent of HB 1999 during the 45-minute Senate debate last Tuesday. He wanted to know if Oklahoma would be harming people in other counties by exporting horsemeat that might be “contaminated with injections.”
Update: The Governor signed HB 1999 on March 29 after this article was published. The bill takes effect Nov. 1, 2013.© Food Safety News