The legislative debate over legalizing horse slaughter in Oklahoma is over. Lawmakers voted strongly in support. Gov. Mary Fallin is expected to sign the bill. The issue now moves into the public domain for further review.
The debate is not whether horses will be slaught-ered. They will. An estimated 18,000 horses were shipped from Oklahoma to Mexico for slaughter last year; up to two-thirds of horses sold at auction may already go to slaughter.
Instead, the question is whether slaughter will actually occur in Oklahoma.
Although animal-rights activists say they'd gladly take unwanted horses and care for them, the above statistics show that when it comes time to either buy a horse or allow its slaughter, they've allowed the latter to occur.
Most people have no problem with slaughtering cattle or pigs but recoil at the idea of killing horses. That's an emotional response. Moving forward, nonemotional considerations are more important, especially for communities considering horse slaughter for economic development.
The infrastructure required to dispose of slaughter byproduct is substantial; many small towns lack it. Any horse plant would be targeted by national animal-rights groups. Communities must consider whether the associated protests and lawsuits are worth being part of a niche industry. The plants are often blamed for lowering property values; their workforce is credited with rising crime rates. Communities must consider these possible downsides.
From a public relations standpoint, Oklahomans should be hesitant to become the first state to actually revive horse slaughter. Image matters. The economic impact of horse slaughter would be minimal; its effect on the state's reputation could be greater.
So far, this debate has been abstract. It's about to become concrete. Oklahomans must carefully weigh these decisions.
Meantime, we hope lawmakers devote as much effort to addressing truly important issues — like fixing our broken workers' compensation system — as they did on horse slaughter.