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Oklahoma Lawmakers Pushing Bills To Allow Commercial Slaughter Of Horses

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File photo of a beef plant that serves horse meat. (credit: DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images)

File photo of a beef plant that serves horse meat. (credit: DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images)

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Several legislators voiced their support Wednesday for a pair of measures that would allow the commercial slaughter of horses in Oklahoma for human consumption, despite recent recalls in Europe of products found to contain horse meat and a push in Washington to renew a federal ban on horse slaughter that expired in 2011.

Rep. Skye McNiel, a Bristow Republican who crafted the House’s horse meat bill, joined Speaker T. W. Shannon and more than 100 members of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and other agriculture groups at a news conference in the state Capitol. Many said ranchers and farmers know best how to care for their own animals.

“This morning, we draw the line in the sand and say we are not going to be bullied,” said Shannon, who framed the issue in terms of property rights.

Oklahoma has banned horse meat processing since 1963. McNiel’s proposal would allow horses to be slaughtered in Oklahoma, but would require the meat to be sold elsewhere. Both her version and a similar Senate bill were overwhelmingly passed by their respective chambers and have crossed to the other for consideration.

Europe’s recent recalls of meat products found to contain horse meat, including IKEA’s recall of meatballs from certain non-U.S. stores, has brought renewed interest in the sale of horse meat in the U.S. Opponents and supporters of horse meat sales each contend that their side is the more humane: supporters say horses will otherwise be left to starve, while opponents point to what they say is inhumane slaughterhouse violence.

Meanwhile, the national Capitol newsletter The Hill reported Wednesday that a bipartisan group of four members of Congress, with the Obama administration’s support, had introduced a bill to permanently establish a federal ban on horse meat production. A horse slaughter plant in Roswell, N.M., is slated to begin operating within the next two months, and McNiel said another plant in Missouri could soon follow.

A federal ban would trump any commercial slaughter law Oklahoma might pass, but McNiel said that wouldn’t dampen her enthusiasm.

“We have to show the federal government this is an important alternative,” said McNeil. She said she’s received thousands of angry emails from people who oppose allowing horses to be slaughtered for meat and that a family member even received a threatening phone call.

Cynthia Armstrong, the Oklahoma state director with the Humane Society of the United States, said her group’s supporters wouldn’t use such tactics. She said those behind the bills have mischaracterized opponents in Oklahoma as “out-of-state extremists.”

“The people of Oklahoma are angry, and they’re tired of their voice being marginalized,” said Armstrong, noting external business interests were also pushing for the bill. “(This bill) is not about giving rural people options. It is not about solving the abandoned and neglected horse problem.”

Both the number of neglected horses in the U.S. and the number of horses exported for slaughter dramatically increased after horse slaughter stopped in 2006, according to a June 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office, though it notes other economic factors and a general lack of data. The federal government effectively banned the practice by refusing to provide meat inspectors for horse slaughterhouses. Almost 140,000 horses were shipped to Canada and Mexico in 2010, the report says — almost as many as were slaughtered domestically before the ban.

“It is time to start talking about how to solve a glaring problem,” McNiel said. “Those horses should’ve not had to endure the long truck ride and inhumane conditions of Mexico.”

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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