While eliminating a ban on horse processing plants in Oklahoma wasn’t on the top of the policy agenda for Gov. Mary Fallin, late Friday she signed a bill that overturns a five decade long ban on the practice.
How you view the horse and its role in American life, likely also determines where you are in the debate over allowing the processing of horsemeat in Oklahoma.
If “companion animal,” or “pet,” comes first to mind, you’re probably against the slaughter of horses. And according to a recent SoonerPoll.com public opinion survey, you also agree with the majority of Oklahomans.
That vote was closer than most taken in the Republican controlled Senate. It also saw an unusual bipartisan mix for and against the measure.
The bill also zipped through the legislative process, despite opposition from animal rights groups and many horse owners.
“It was the dead opposite of economic development,” says Paula Bacon, the former mayor of Kaufman, Texas. She came to Oklahoma to tell her story of how living with a horse processing plant for 27 years nearly ruined her town.
“It stigmatized our community very, very severely, where good development went elsewhere,” she says. “They created tremendous environmental problems for us, and you know, frankly, nobody wants to come to a town or be known as a town where they slaughter horses.”
But her cautionary tale did not stand against an organized effort by agriculture and farm organizations, including the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, in support of the legislation.
During debate on the Senate floor, passions ran high on both sides.
Sen. Randy Bass (D-Lawton) argued the state was moving toward a decision to slaughter horses for just a few cents.
“Take it (a horse) to the sale barn if you want 35 cents a pound, go ahead,” says Bass. “They take them to Mexico, the buyers are there at every sale.”
Bass says one girl, a part of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, told him she wanted to get more money for her horse.
“They’ll get 70 cents a pound if we build one (processing plant) in Oklahoma, so you’re going to kill horses for 35 cents a pound?” says Bass.
But for Sen. Bryce Marlatt (R-Woodward), the debate is about a practical matter.
“These animals that we’re talking about are tools,” Marlatt says. “They are pets and we are not going to see the floodgates open up by passing this bill, and the people in Mexico and Canada starting to eat horsemeat because they’re already eating it, this isn’t a new thing.”
Opponents of bringing legal horse slaughter back to the state had hoped the closer than usual vote in the Senate meant that if the governor decided to veto the bill, they might be able to sustain that decision. But now that Fallin has signed the legislation into law, that hope has fallen.
While some political observers say a vote on the horse issue might become the subject of advertising in the next political campaign, House minority leader, Rep. Scott Inman (D-Midwest City) says voters will have moved on before that time comes.
Now that the bill has been signed by the governor, the debate and the emotions are likely to continue. Evidence of that is an investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation into possible threats made against the House author of the bill, Rep. Skye McNiel (R-Bristow).