A bill that would allow horse slaughter in Oklahoma is in the hands of Gov. Mary Fallin, who is leaning toward signing it.
Even if House Bill 1999 is signed into law, it could be three years before a horse processing plant could be operating in the state, said Sen. Eddie Fields, the Senate sponsor of the measure.
The state Senate on Tuesday voted 32-14 to pass HB 1999, which would allow horse slaughter but would continue the existing ban on the sale of horse meat for consumption in the state. Seven of the 12 Senate Democrats voted for it; five voted against. Nine of the 36 Republicans voted against it; two GOP senators didn't vote.
Gov. Mary Fallin indicated earlier she would sign the bill, which would overturn a 50-year-old ban on horse slaughter.
A similar bill, Senate Bill 375, was scheduled to be heard Wednesday by a House of Representatives committee, but it has been taken off the agenda apparently to see whether Fallin signs HB 1999. If she does, there would be little reason to proceed with the Senate bill.
Opponents vowed to continue efforts to prevent a slaughter plant from being built Oklahoma.
“The battle has just begun,” said John Murrell, of Dallas, a thoroughbred horse owner and breeder and a former board member of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. “This is just a temporary setback.
“It's a terrible, sad day for Oklahoma,” said Murrell, who worked to get the two horse slaughter plants in Texas closed several years ago. A third plant was closed by court order in 2007 in Illinois.
If HB 1999 is signed into law, prohibitions against horse slaughter would remain in three states: California, Texas and Illinois.
Senators discussed and debated HB 1999 for about 45 minutes.
Sens. Al McAffrey, D-Oklahoma City, and Constance Johnson, D-Forest Park, were among those who spoke against the measure, questioning the safety of horse meat that would be slaughtered in Oklahoma and sold for consumption in other countries.
“Why is it OK for us to approve meat that has been contaminated with injections?” she asked, saying she was especially concerned about children eating tainted meat. “I'm just encouraging us to think this thing through better.”
Fields, the Senate sponsor of HB 1999, said horses are not to be slaughtered until 21 days after receiving their last injection so that the meat is not contaminated.
The U.S. Agriculture Department would regulate horses being slaughtered in a processing plant operating in the U.S., said Fields, R-Wynona.
“We have the safest food supply in the world, and we have the model there of how to do it, and I think the horse processing can be modeled after that,” Fields said after the vote.
“If we ever do get a facility in Oklahoma, we've got to make sure that they are doing it the best possible way that that process can be done.”
Plant is years away
Fields said a proposed horse slaughter plant in New Mexico likely is the closest to actually begin operations, but inspectors still are being trained. He said he had heard that a permit application to build a slaughterhouse in Oklahoma in rural McClain County has been denied.
If a horse slaughter plant would come to Oklahoma, horse owners would not be forced to take them there, Fields said.
The plant would give horse owners another option of what to do with their animals, which are personal property, he said.
“If the governor does sign the bill, my guess is it would be two or three years down the road before we ever actually had a facility up and operating in the state of Oklahoma,” he said.
Killing the bill won't end horse slaughter, Fields said. Oklahoma horses already are being slaughtered; they are shipped to Mexico and killed in possibly inhumane conditions.
“It's better to do it here in the U.S. than to try to ship them to Mexico, where the videos I've seen, it's just unreal how they do it down there,” he said.
HB 1999 would revoke the state's 1963 law banning the sale of horse meat and would end the prohibition on horse slaughtering.
McAffrey said after the vote he was disappointed.
“We as senators made a mistake,” he said. “It's a bad deal for the state of Oklahoma.”