OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A bill that paves the way for a horse slaughtering facility in Oklahoma cleared the Senate on Tuesday and now heads to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin, who is expected to sign it.
Fallin typically withholds comment on pending legislation, but a spokesman said Tuesday that if the bill came to her desk in its current form, she "would be inclined to sign it."
"She would of course only do so after reviewing it carefully with her legal and policy staff," Fallin spokesman Aaron Cooper said in a statement. "One important fact that the public may be unaware of: Oklahoma horses are already being slaughtered. They are simply being shipped out of the country to Mexico and killed, in conditions that may be inhumane."
The bill by Rep. Skye McNiel, R-Bristow, repeals a ban on the slaughter of horses for human consumption that has been in place in Oklahoma for 50 years. The bill, which passed the Senate on a 32-14 vote, would not allow the meat to be sold in Oklahoma, but it could be exported. The measure also authorizes the Oklahoma State Department of Health to inspect any horse slaughtering facility in the state.
The bill and a similar measure pending in the House have faced fierce opposition from animal rights groups but received support from several agriculture organizations with a strong lobbying influence at the Capitol, including the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association and American Farmers and Ranchers. It was supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, especially those representing rural areas.
Sen. Eddie Fields, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, characterized it as a "private property rights issue."
"We're not forcing anyone to take their horse to a processing facility," said Fields, R-Wynona. "You still have your right to do whatever you want with your horse."
Other supporters say a horse slaughtering facility in Oklahoma would provide a humane alternative for aging, starving horses, many of which are left abandoned in rural parts of the state by owners who can no longer afford to care for them.
But opponents like Sen. Randy Bass said a slaughtering facility is no humane way to dispose of a horse, and during debate, he delivered a gory account of what takes place in a horse slaughterhouse.
"That's not what I'm here for," said Bass, D-Lawton. "I'm not here to butcher horses."
Cynthia Armstrong, the Oklahoma state director for The Humane Society of the United States, said she was "heartbroken."
Page 2 of 2 -
"It's a colossally bad idea, and the legislators who support such a scheme are terribly misguided," Armstrong said. "I don't want to see something like horse slaughter come to Oklahoma. It would be very bad for the state, and certainly terrible for the horses that would have to suffer through being brought to such a place."
Armstrong said opponents of the ban plan to urge Fallin to reject the proposal.
Even if the bill is signed into law, opponents continue to support legislation pending in Congress to ban domestic slaughter, as well as the export of horses to other countries for processing.