Two measures alive in the state Legislature, House Bill 1999 and Senate Bill 375, would allow for the humane slaughter of horses while maintaining a ban on the sale of horse meat for human consumption in the state.
The bills are in response to a lawsuit filed by Valley Meat Company that forced the U.S. Department of Agriculture to renew inspections of horse slaughter facilities. When such facilities were defunded by Congress in 2006, horse slaughter effectively ended. Assuming there are no more legal hurdles, Valley Meat will open a domestic slaughterhouse in New Mexico this spring.
Proponents, including the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF), say domestic slaughter is badly needed.
“We need a humane way to dispose of these animals,” said Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF. “The horse market is seriously depressed because we have no way of disposing of horses economically or humanely. Shipping horses across long distances creates stress on the animals, and then they are delivered to a slaughter facility in a country that doesn’t use the same humane practices we do in the U.S.”
Simone Netherlands, founder of Respect4Horses, which opposes domestic horse slaughter, organized a March 4 rally in downtown Oklahoma City. She agrees that U.S. horses never should be transported to Mexican facilities — and has ghastly photos to make her point — but said no horses should be killed.
“If breeders would be responsible enough to reduce breeding by as little as 10 percent, no horses would need to be slaughtered,” she said. “The slaughter industry keeps talking about sick and old horses. This is not about sick and old horses; it’s about supplying healthy animals to slaughter facilities for monetary gain.”
‘Don’t buy the horse’
HB 1999’s author, state Rep. Skye McNiel, R-Bristow, acknowledged that private interests will make money as well as create new jobs but said profit is not the primary motivation.
“This is necessary legislation because we have an overpopulation problem, including large numbers of abused, neglected, diseased and old horses,” McNiel said.
Approximately 21,000 horses are transported to Mexico annually for processing, according to McNiel and Netherlands. The meat is sold to nations for consumption. Some of its largest customers, however, are U.S.based zoos and circuses that import the meat back from Mexico because it’s a staple in the diet of lions and tigers.
Bullard said reducing the numbers by changing breeding practices will not solve the problem.
“Horses are used for work, sport and recreation, and any breeding practices will always produce horses that are not fit for these things,” he said. “We will always have diseased and old horses, as well. Euthanizing horses creates a financial hardship.”
Prices across the country vary, but veterinarian charges, drugs and disposal fees can combine to total between $400 and $1,000 per horse.
Netherlands calls that the price of responsible animal ownership.
“If you can’t afford to euthanize your horse, don’t buy the horse,” she said. “It’s the same principle you would use for any companion animal.”
Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, who voted against HB 1999 in committee, said the horse owners she has spoken to are overwhelmingly opposed to slaughter.
“I’ve received more emails opposing this legislation than I have on any piece of legislation in the last nine years,” she said. “I understand both sides, and we do need a solution, but my constituents have clearly said this is not it.”
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