Oklahoma’s govenor has signed a bill permitting horse slaughter in the state, saying those who care about horses cannot be happy with a status quo that encourages abuse and neglect.
Governor Mary Fallin put her signature to House Bill 1999 on Friday, which ends the prohibition on horse-meat processing for export in Oklahoma.
Forty-six states, not including Oklahoma, currently allow horse-meat processing.
Slaughter plants, however, still face hurdles in starting operation on US soil, with big questions still hanging over whether meat from such plants could be exported to the lucrative European Union market.
The European Union has been embroiled in recent months in a scandal around horse-meat contamination of processed beef products. Investigations have resulted in tens of millions of ready-to-eat meals being pulled from supermarket shelves and a multinational probe into food traceability.
Serious questions remain over the adequacy of traceability systems in the US, where horses are not raised as food animals. The Equine Welfare Alliance says it has information from the European Union suggesting American horse meat will not be accepted.
Governor Fallin released a statement after signing the bill, saying that in Oklahoma – as in other states – abuse was tragically common among horses reaching the end of their natural lives.
“Many horses are abandoned or left to starve to death. Others are shipped out of the country, many to Mexico, where they are processed in potentially inhumane conditions that are not regulated by the US government.
“Unfortunately, the 2006 federal ban on horse processing plants has made this situation worse. After the implementation of that ban, the Government Accountability Office reported a 60 per cent increase in abused, neglected and starved horses.
“The US Department of Agriculture has also noted that over 166,000 horses were sent to Canada and Mexico for processing just in 2012.
“These animals traveled long distances, in potentially inhumane circumstances, only to meet their end in foreign processing plants that do not face the same level of regulation or scrutiny that American plants would.
“Those of us who care about the wellbeing of horses – and we all should – cannot be satisfied with a status quo that encourages abuse and neglect, or that rewards the potentially inhumane slaughter of animals in foreign countries.
“For that reason, I have today signed HB 1999, which would allow the humane, regulated processing of horses. This bill strictly prohibits selling horse meat for human consumption in Oklahoma.”
She continued: “My office diligently worked to ensure input from all sides of the issue was carefully considered during the consideration of this bill. I appreciate and support the efforts of those who have expressed a desire to donate land, money and resources to provide for abandoned horses.
“I believe the direction pursued by the Oklahoma Legislature, in a bill supported by both Democrats and Republicans and passed by large margins, is both practical and humane.”
“There are currently no processing facilities in the state. Should there ever be a processing facility planned, my administration will work with the Department of Agriculture to ensure it is run appropriately, follows all state and local laws, and is not a burden or hazard to the community.”
Fallin said it was mportant to note that cities, counties and municipalities still had the ability to express their opposition to processing facilities by blocking their construction and operation at the local level.
The bill takes effect on November 1, 2013.
It was sponsored by Representative Skye McNeil in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Senator Eddie Fields in the Senate. The bill passed 82-14 in the House and 32-14 in the Senate.