Despite a last-minute stampede of opponents asking her to do otherwise, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill Friday that would allow horse slaughter in Oklahoma.
Fallin vowed that her administration would work to ensure any horse slaughter plant built in Oklahoma would be run appropriately.
“It's important to note cities, counties and municipalities still have the ability to express their opposition to processing facilities by blocking their construction and operation at the local level,” Fallin said. “Should there ever be a processing facility planned, my administration will work with the Department of Agriculture to ensure it is run appropriately, follows all state and local laws, and is not a burden or hazard to the community.”
The governor signed House Bill 1999, which spurred emotion on both sides of the issue, without fanfare. She announced her decision through a news release.
Fallin said she signed the measure because it would allow “the humane, regulated processing of horses. This bill, which takes effect Nov. 1, strictly prohibits selling horse meat for human consumption in Oklahoma.”
The Republican governor said she was concerned about the abuse that is common among horses that are reaching the end of their natural lives.
“Many horses are abandoned or left to starve to death,” she said.
“Others are shipped out of the country, many to Mexico, where they are processed in potentially inhumane conditions that are not regulated by the U.S. government.”
Fallin said the 2006 federal ban on horse slaughter plants has made the situation worse.
After the ban, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported a 60 percent increase in abused, neglected and starved horses. The U.S. Agriculture Department reported that more than 166,000 horses were sent to Canada and Mexico for slaughter in 2012.
“These animals traveled long distances, in potentially inhumane circumstances, only to meet their end in foreign processing plants that do not face the same level of regulation or scrutiny that American plants would,” she said. “Those of us who care about the well-being of horses — and we all should — cannot be satisfied with a status quo that encourages abuse and neglect, or that rewards the potentially inhumane slaughter of animals in foreign countries.”
HB 1999 won wide support in both chambers of the Republican-controlled Legislature. It passed 82-14 in the House last month and was approved 32-14 Monday in the Senate.
Opponents outnumbered proponents in contacting the governor's office during the past month, but most of the opponents were from out of state, the governor said. Some encouraged Fallin to follow the lead of New Mexico's GOP governor, who signed a measure this week that created a horse shelter rescue fund.
“I appreciate and support the efforts of those who have expressed a desire to donate land, money and resources to provide for abandoned horses,” Fallin said. “I believe the direction pursued by the Oklahoma Legislature, in a bill supported by both Democrats and Republicans and passed by large margins, is both practical and humane.”
Cynthia Armstrong, Oklahoma state director for the Humane Society of the United States, on Friday again urged Fallin to veto the measure, which overturns a 50-year ban on horse slaughter in Oklahoma.
“We really regret that she didn't veto this poor legislation, but we will continue to work toward banning the practice of horse slaughter nationwide through federal legislation,” Armstrong said. “We will continue to educate communities about the serious environmental and economic damage that these horse slaughter plants do when they locate in a city or town.
“We're looking at every option we can to prevent a slaughter plant from opening in Oklahoma.”
Mike Spradling, president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, said his group supported the measure because it was a personal property issue. A plant would give horse owners another option of what to do with their animals, he said.
“The people that really care for these animals each and every day all stood in line and said the same thing,” he said. “Most of the opposition came from animal rights activists and a lot of people that actually had absolutely no understanding of the issue — didn't own a horse.
“The thing we really appreciate about Governor Fallin is she understands agriculture in the state of Oklahoma,” said Spradling, of Tulsa. “She understood this issue from the very beginning. She saw the problem, recognized the problem and knows that this is an option, not a mandate.”