Oklahoma leaders pursue first horse slaughterhouse
BY JANET PEARSON Associate Editor
Sunday, February 24, 2013
2/24/13 at 6:47 AM
Who knew we had so many animal-rights nuts in the Oklahoma Legislature?
Last week, both the state House and Senate passed by huge margins separate measures allowing horse slaughterhouses to operate in the state. Though lawmakers haven't been doing a lot of talking - the Senate version passed without debate - the party line is that a slaughterhouse in these parts would be a humane solution to addressing the problem of aging, unwanted or sickly horses.
It's possible a version could be headed to the governor's desk as early as this week. Or, the two separate bills might end up in conference committee.
In any case, seldom have lawmakers acted with such swiftness. Could it be their compassion for horses is that strong?
Or could it be something else?
Since the ban on federal slaughterhouse inspections was lifted in 2011, there's been a flurry of activity to open new plants in a handful of states. The few horse slaughterhouses in operation recently in the U.S. closed by 2007, when a federal ban on inspections was imposed.
The main argument in favor of slaughterhouses around here is that they could be a humane way to end the lives of horses that have few if any prospects for a better life ahead. Horses are being abandoned and neglected in huge numbers, claim proponents, who insist that a slaughterhouse is the only solution.
It doesn't seem to bother them that abandonment and neglect are possible felonies; in fact, they seem perfectly willing to provide a for-profit legislative remedy to help these would-be felons. And it apparently is lost on them that there are much more humane options for ending a horse's life if that's necessary. But then, these more humane alternatives don't produce a profit for anyone.
Just how serious is this unwanted horse problem? There's conflicting data. While abandonment and neglect could be factors in the numbers going to slaughter, the poor economy and the increasing demand from foreign markets also likely are major influences. In any case, there are other remedies to abandonment and neglect than commercial slaughter.
While proponents of slaughterhouses are quick to pounce on the neglect and abandonment issue, they avoid mentioning the increase in horse theft and property crimes experienced around communities located near slaughterhouses. Nor do they talk about the sometimes substantial legal costs that can be a consequence of slaughterhouses.
These issues and many others have been detailed and analyzed in a series of reports beginning in late 2011 through early 2012 in Forbes magazine, by contributing writer Vickery Eckhoff. One of those is the transport issue.
Eckhoff referenced a 900-page report done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2008 regarding its problems in overseeing the welfare of horses during transport.
That report graphically confirmed the USDA's inability to ensure humane transport, through photos showing "extensive injuries, deaths and inhumane treatment" of horses transported to U.S. slaughterhouses.
The USDA could not ensure that the required documentation on transport was provided, because the paperwork function operated on the "honor system." As a result, much documentation was incomplete or missing altogether.
Canadian authorities also found in their reviews of required documentation "missing and incomplete information on the horses' previous owners or agents and misidentification of horses in accompanying photographs," according to Eckhoff's research.
The transport oversight problems raise this question: If federal agencies already are having difficulty in carrying out duties related to horse slaughter, does anybody seriously think they're going to do an adequate job overseeing new U.S. slaughterhouses? Remember, Oklahoma long has had a problem with puppy mills, in large part due to lack of oversight on both the federal and state levels to monitor breeding. Does anyone have faith in this day and time that the necessary resources will be devoted to the monitoring of a horse slaughterhouse?
As to the argument that most horses sent to slaughter are sickly and old: First of all, the foreign consumers don't want to dine on sick, old horses. They want young, healthy horses, and data show that's exactly what they're getting.
According to Eckhoff's reporting, a study done by a Colorado State University veterinarian showed that 90 percent going to slaughter "are healthy, sound horses with no behavior problems." She cited another study showing that under 4 percent of the horses sold for slaughter were older than age 10.
Other statistics from the USDA show that 92 percent of horses sent to slaughter arrive in "good" condition. So much for the argument that slaughter is just necessary euthanasia.
And just how humane is a slaughterhouse end? Eckhoff took that question to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, an anesthesiologist and veterinary behaviorist at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, who viewed film of the slaughter of more than 150 horses in Canada. The video revealed that in at least 40 percent of the stun attempts, the horses "were not rendered immediately unconscious, or revived after stunning."
"My final conclusion, after reviewing 150-plus horse slaughters in this series of videos, is that the process was terrifying for most of the horses and, in many cases, horribly inhumane," Dodman said.
According to industry data, about 900,000 horses are disposed of each year in the U.S. in ways other than commercial slaughter. Obviously the existing methods work pretty well and surely could absorb many more. Humane euthanasia and disposal are affordable procedures - certainly less costly than the consequences of new slaughterhouses. But again, these more humane options don't generate a profit for anyone.
At this point, it appears the only hope for stopping this outrage is a veto by Gov. Mary Fallin or perhaps an initiative petition effort to repeal the legislation. Needless to say, expect a lawsuit.
Why is it our lawmakers are only too eager to expedite something like this, and every bit as reluctant to take on the important issues plaguing our state?
Original Print Headline: The Horse-Slayers
Janet Pearson 918-581-8328
A retired mare wanders a pasture together with other retired mares. Oklahoma lawmakers are expediting bills that would allow commercial horse slaughterhouses in the state. Associated Press file