NORMAN — A bill to legalize the slaughter of horses in Oklahoma is approaching the finish line, after members of the Senate agriculture committee voted unanimously Monday in support of the measure.
The proposed legislation has riled the Oklahoma Humane Society and some horse owners who fear that what would become the only horse slaughtering facility in the United States could locate near the McClain County town of Washington.
But other horsesmen including several lawmakers who live in rural farming communities, strongly endorse passage of House Bill 1999. Supporters include the Farm Bureau, Cattlemen’s Association and the Oklahoma Pork Council.
There was no discussion before the voice vote Monday in Senate committee, although several of those opposed to the horse slaughter gathered outside the Senate meeting room right after the vote to voice their concerns.
A tearful 15-year-old Abbey Rutherford of Owasso said, “Not one senator had it in their heart to say no.”
Rutherford, who has three horses of her own, said, “I can’t imagine how anyone could hurt a horse.”
Rep. Skye McNiel, author of the House bill, said purpose of the legislation is to provide a place where the old and feeble horses can be slaughtered, rather than going to Mexico, which is where they go now.
Cynthia Armstrong, Oklahoma director of the Humane Society of the United States, said she doesn’t believe that all of these horses are old or lame, but they are being raised and marketed just like cattle, hogs and sheep.
Sen. Eddie Fields, R-Wynona, said he has never found this to be the case with the quarter horse or Arabian horse owners.
McNiel, R-Bristow, estimates that in a year’s time, about 21,000 Oklahoma horses were disposed of out of a state horse population of about 350,000.
The lawmaker, whose grandparents ran an animal auction barn for decades, has said that she thinks those who do not live in rural areas can’t understand what the needs of rural Oklahoma are.
McNiel and other supporting legislators dismiss any allegation that this will be a method to market horse meat for human consumption.
State Rep. Don Armes, R-Faxon, said, opponents of the bill are misinformed.
“We don’t even want to eat horse meat; that’s what the opposition wants you to believe.”
The pending legislation provides that horse meat would not be eligible for consumption in Oklahoma or anywhere else in the United States.
Armes noted that several European countries already partake of horse meat, and this would be a viable market for Oklahomans needing to dispose of their horses here, rather than in a foreign country.
Opponents of the bill said they fear that Senator Fields will try to rush the bill through, even later this week, on the floor of the Senate.
Fields said that will not be the case. The bill will get the usual consideration, including addition of any amendments. He said the measure won’t be rushed through the Senate, although thus far it appears likely that it will win final passage in both houses of the Legislature.