By Kelsey Gee and Bill Tomson, The Wall Street Journal
Oklahoma's governor is expected to sign a new bill permitting horses to be slaughtered in the state to produce meat for human consumption, the latest salvo in a national debate over how to deal with wild and abandoned horses.
The bill, which the state Senate passed on Tuesday by a 32-14 vote, would allow horse meat to be processed in-state and exported for human consumption. Gov. Mary Fallin is likely to sign the bill as soon as this week, a spokesman said, despite opposition from animal-rights advocates and a measure being considered by the U.S. Congress that could ban horse slaughter nationally.
Backers of the bill say it provides for an efficient and humane way to deal with animals that might otherwise be abandoned. State Sen. Eddie Fields, a Republican sponsor of the legislation, said it gives horse owners the right they deserve to dispose of animals they can no longer afford to care for.
"An animal that has reached the end of its useful life may require intensive attention, expensive medicines and even hand-feeding," he said.
Horse slaughtering was effectively barred in the U.S. from 2007 to 2011 because Congress cut funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors for such facilities. Inspections are required for slaughterhouses to operate.
Congress reinstated funding in response to increasing concern about how to handle the growing population of abandoned horses in the wild, and companies have applied to the USDA to open slaughterhouses in states including New Mexico, Missouri, and Iowa, and Tennessee.
Oklahoma is one of a handful of states that had its own legislation barring horse slaughterhouses. The state has about 22,000 wild horses in holding facilities, accounting for nearly half the 49,000 horses held in government facilities nationwide.
The cost of caring for those animals nationally has risen to about $120,000 a day, according to data from the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, which opposes the use of slaughterhouses.
Opponents argue that there are other means to address the problem of wild and abandoned horses, such as birth control. Federal lawmakers in March introduced legislation with bipartisan support that would ban U.S. horse-meat processing and the export of horses for slaughter elsewhere.
Rep. Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, asked Department of Agriculture officials this week to hold off approval of processing facilities while Congress considers a ban.
"It is regrettable that Congress allowed the prohibition on federal funding for horse slaughter inspections to lapse," he said in a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.