BY JANET PEARSON Associate Editor
Sunday, February 17, 2013
2/17/13 at 7:33 AM
For a lot of Oklahomans, the undeniable horribleness of horse slaughter is reason enough to maintain the state's ban on the grisly business.
But of course, meat production is an inherently unpleasant undertaking. Which raises the question: Are there other good reasons to continue the ban?
Apparently leaders and residents of Texas, Tennessee, New Mexico, Oregon and Missouri, among other states, seem to think so.
Evidence from the experience of the two states where slaughterhouses most recently operated is resurfacing and is proving to be persuasive in those states where new slaughterhouses are being proposed. Slaughterhouse plans have been proposed in about a half-dozen states, including Oklahoma, since Congress lifted the ban on domestic horse meat inspections in late 2011, which paved the way for their return in the U.S.
Water pollution, the never-ending stench of blood, waste and offal, wastewater system problems, extensive legal battles and the negative stigma that drives out other businesses are only a few of the long-running problems these communities had to endure, in some cases for decades.
Very little horsemeat is consumed in the U.S., which means Americans will be paying for inspections of facilities that slaughter horses for consumption in other countries if any new facilities are built here. Currently, more than 100,000 American horses a year are transported to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico that serve foreign markets. The fact that there is little oversight over these transports, though that's required by federal law, is reason to suspect there won't be adequate supervision of new slaughterhouses either.
Aside from the humane arguments against commercial slaughter - which are indeed compelling - there are equally compelling economic and environmental arguments.
In the wake of the federal action allowing horse slaughterhouses, several bills that would repeal the state's prohibition on the commercial slaughter of horses in Oklahoma are working their way through the Legislature. Other states have been contemplating such facilities, too, but generally the plans have been getting an unwelcome response.
A year ago in Mountain Grove, Mo., hundreds of area residents jammed a meeting room and booed and hissed as proponents of a horse slaughterhouse made their pitch. According to reports, the "egregious" damage done to the three communities that were near the now-closed facilities was persuasive in turning residents against the plan.
Last fall in Hermiston, Ore., residents also united to take a stand against a proposed plant. And this from townspeople who were OK with an Army chemical depot that "stockpiled rockets, bombs and land mines armed with nerve gas and mustard agents," according to the Oregonian.
Mayor Robert Severson said his town is the fastest-growing community in eastern Oregon, and that the slaughter plant might discourage other new businesses from locating there.
"I've had people come up to me and say, "Thank God that you took a stand against the horse slaughter plant," he said.
Last spring, New Mexico Gov. Susan Martinez and other state officials came out against a proposal to open a slaughterhouse there. And last fall, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill banning horse slaughter in that state.
But by far the most compelling arguments against the renewed efforts to open slaughterhouses come from someone who knows too well what the consequences can be. Paula Bacon, former mayor of Kaufman, Texas, wrote a letter to Missouri officials last year explaining in agonizing detail what her town endured for more than two decades. City leaders finally pursued legal action and succeeded in closing the plant down. Though the plant has been closed for half a decade, Bacon continues her crusade against them, driven by her city's dreadful experience.
She said the facility caused "significant and long-term hardship to my community," and "from the beginning ... caused problems both economically and environmentally."
She cited local documentation of "decaying meat (which) provides a foul odor and is an attraction for vermin and carrion," containers that carried "uncovered and leaking liquids," and "significant foul odors during the daily monitoring of the area."
The operator had "a very long history of violations to their industrial waste permit" and denied the city access to the property for required wastewater testing.
Reports from city inspectors found "blood flowing east and west in the ditches from (the) plant," and noted that cleanup did not occur for nearly two months.
"Your system has not improved and subsequently it has gotten a lot worse," wrote an inspector. And another: "Words cannot express the seriousness" of recent violations.
"Bones and blood lying in front of the facility" ended up in neighborhoring yards, attracting dogs and other animals.
The legal battles drained the city's resources, consuming the entire legal department budget of $70,000 one year.
Bacon also relayed similar experiences that occurred at plants in Fort Worth and DeKalb, Ill. All three of the plants are now closed.
"I have mentioned only the pollution issue, but this is but one negative aspect of horse slaughter," she continued. " ... Behind the privacy fences of these plants, trucks arrived continuously and on those trucks was every form of inhumane violation one can imagine, from mares birthing foals to horses with eyes dangling from their sockets and legs ripped from their bodies."
"The more I learn about horse slaughter, the more certain I am: There is no justification for horse slaughter in this country. My city was little more than a doormat for the foreign-owned business that drained our resources, thwarted economic development and stigmatized our community. ... There is no justification for spending American tax dollars to support this industry at the expense of Americans and our horses."
Janet Pearson 918-581-8328