March Editorial Winner

Don't butcher our horses

J.B. BITTNER, The Elk City Daily News

Bills under consideration in both the House and the Senate of the Oklahoma Legislature – House Bill 1999 and Senate Bill 375 – would open up a new ag market for state livestock producers.
Slaughtering horses and selling their meat – it’s a potential market with a herd of negatives and no reasonable positives.
While the legislative measures don’t open the door for horse burgers on your favorite sports bar menu, just as troubling should be the clear plan to market Oklahoma horse meat overseas.
American horses have never been raised for food. Anyone who has horses knows they are routinely treated with wormers and other poisonous substances that would adversely affect any meat destined for human consumption.
Where are the people who should be thinking about our credibility and the effect one bad batch of burro stew could have on international trade? Talk to a beef producer about how the rumor of one mad cow can crash the beef export market. For years.
The most vocal opponents of horse slaughtering and eating are animal rights groups.
And rightly so. Horses are a majestic part of our heritage and culture, not our family recipes. But while the animal rights position may be the sexy and romantic one, there are clearly reasons to oppose these bills that lean more toward middle ground.
A populace that wants less government in our lives, rather than more, should weigh the requirement for more meat inspectors and law enforcers to make sure all the conditions of these bills are met lest the meat of ill and aged equines find its way to our chili pots and tacos.
Less government interference? Consider the requirements on processors to use establishments and equipment separate from that used for beef and pork processing.
More regulations, more enforcement, more cost to small business, more government intrusion. How are we paying for all that
The push for horse slaughtering to sell horse meat in markets outside our own borders brings to mind extensive efforts to market American tobacco products overseas while decrying their detrimental impact to our own citizens. Not good enough for us – in fact, terminally bad for us – but good enough for our world neighbors. Who is not ashamed to claim ownership of that rationale?
Horse slaughterhouses should not be an item on the legislative menu for discussion – for issues of cruelty, among a shopping basket full of other concerns. But circumstances to which pro-slaughter advocates point with vigor remain a part of the equation.
Owners of aging, ill and injured horses want a solution. The fact remains that, while for many people horses are big furry pets best for hugging, horses have been farm tools through much of our state’s history.
Our pioneer ancestors’ thinking was that a farm tool contributed to easing the rural workload or it was gone. That notion is alive and well today on many farms and ranches.
Equine rescues provide comfortable homes for horses that can no longer carry their riders, do their ranch chores, run races or produce offspring. Equine therapy programs that integrate equestrian training into therapeutic sessions to help special needs adults and children often bring new life purpose to aging ranch and rodeo horses.
Programs cropping up to partner horses and returning military troops are garnering good reviews for their progress in bringing comfort and therapy to soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
These horses don’t have to be capable of winning the Kentucky Derby or carrying a rider around a cloverleaf barrel pattern in 14.3 seconds.
They just need to be needed and cared for.
These programs don’t fund themselves. Horse owners know the animals are an expensive undertaking. Oklahomans and others who want to see no-kill alternatives to horse slaughtering need to seek out these programs and support them financially.
White Horse Ranch at Mooreland in Northwest Oklahoma partners horses with troubled young women in need of lifestyle changes. Turning Point Ranch in Stillwater helps special needs kids mount up and feel that great equalizer – when they are horseback they don’t walk differently than others nor move more slowly nor stand out in the group. They are just kids. You’ve probably seen them competing in Special Olympics. Oklahoma State University’s award-winning equestrian team volunteers hours to Turning Point’s programs and horse care.
You might know of similar reputable programs where horses are reclaimed, repurposed and granted a reprieve late in life. If not, do some research. They are out there and they need your support. More horses of advanced age and infirmity finding comfortable homes means fewer horses finding their way to any kind of slaughterhouse. No demand, no business.
Our Legislature needs to focus its attention on funding education and health care and keeping our roads repaired and our state safe. Slaughtering horses to sell their meat in other markets while outlawing the meat in Oklahoma? Where is the integrity in that?
Tell your legislators you don’t want any part of slaughtering horses and selling their meat for people to eat. That is not the type of quality agriculture that built our great state.

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