I’ll be holding a “Town Hall” discussion at the Durant Public Library at 10 a.m. on Friday, March 8th. This will be an open forum where I hope to hear from those in the area on how we can continue to move Oklahoma forward.
This week, I wanted to address an issue that has been making state headlines and consequently burying coverage of other major legislative action (e. g. meaningful workers compensation reform, bond debt limitation, budget discussions and a litany of other issues).
Allowing the humane harvesting of equine intended for foreign markets is an issue that seems to be getting ample attention all the while taking up very little legislative time (less than 10 minutes on the Senate floor). The issue is fairly straight forward for some of us with roots in production agriculture yet has been misunderstood by some.
The unique decision by the Obama administration to allow USDA inspection once again at equine processing facilities has set the stage for Oklahoma action on this issue. The President’s decision has even liberal leaning officials now recognizing there’s more to this issue than humane society activists formerly grasped.
Equine processing plants were operational in two locations (Illinois and Texas) in the U.S. until 2006 when state and federal actions disrupted their service. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), investigative data has shown an increase of more than 60 percent on average of abused, neglected and starved horses since that time. The number of investigations for abuse and neglect nearly doubled in Colorado from 1,067 in 2005 to 1,588 in 2009 - again largely due to the 2006 state/federal bans. Those who are against horse slaughter seem to think that just because it’s illegal to slaughter horses in the U.S. that it isn’t happening, but this isn’t true. These animals are being shipped to Mexico and Canada by the thousands. GAO’s most recent Horse Welfare Report stated that from 2006 to 2010 horses transported to Canada and Mexico rose 660 percent. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) identified that more than 150,000 horses are being shipped to these two countries for slaughter. The hours involved in shipping these animals thousands of miles out of country is inhumane itself (not to mention the erratic feeding/treatment while in transit). Even the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has reported that horse welfare suffers as a consequence of such travel. There are little foreign governmental processing regulations to protect the over 150,000 horses that are currently being shipped out of the country. U.S. plants were federally regulated and held to a standard of guidelines requiring humane processing (identical to the processing of cattle). Harvesting in foreign countries, however, doesn’t include such standards (I’ll spare the gruesome details).
Another issue to consider is the jobs that’ll be created through the re-opening of horse processing plants in the U.S. The creation of these jobs will help Oklahoma families and others around the country boosting local economies. As introduced in the Oklahoma Senate, SB 375 would add equine to the definition of a meat food product eligible for processing/export. It’d allow for the opening of plants in Oklahoma to process and package the resulting meat product. The meat couldn’t be sold for U.S. consumption but instead would be shipped to other countries where there is demand for the product.
This is indeed a humane issue. True cruelty is to allow an aged or lame horse (malnourished or starving) to die in pain over an extended period of time. Common leg and joints defects such as founder, navicular syndrome, stifling, and deep abrasions yield pain that results in limited grazing and malnourishment. Internal issues such as a broken mouth (lack of teeth), having their “wind broke”, kidney failure, or lymph node infections are also other common factors that create major limitations and a need for euthanasia.
Other scenarios exist where horses become a danger to humans and can’t be rehabilitated. Horses that have learned behavior such as flipping on top of a rider or overly aggressive outbursts can lead to human death and must be addressed to keep unsuspecting owners out of harm’s way.
Additionally, whether it’s through lack of ability or financial means to care for horses, unwanted animals are a reality. Because of the boarding needs and expenses, finding a home for every unwanted horse isn’t realistic. This was realized before the President overturned the federal equine processing plant inspection ban.
Without an outlet for unwanted, crippled and starving animals the tendency is for horses to be turned out onto public right of ways and public lands creating life and death traffic hazards as evidenced in certain states.
As a co-author of SB 375, I was pleased to see its quick passage by the full Senate and look forward to its progress in the House.
To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Josh Brecheen, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 428B, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (405) 521-5586.