Sunday, April 7, 2013

Adoption of horse slaughter measure doesn't resolve the issues

Belgian and Belgian cross horses grazing in Chelsea last month. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
Oklahoma lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin might have thought that quick passage of the horse slaughter bill would bring the controversy to an end. Instead, they probably just guaranteed that the controversy will continue to drag on, perhaps for years.

And the awful irony is we might have had to endure this dreadful experience, and the damage it's done to our already lousy reputation, for naught - because there's a good chance Oklahoma will never end up with a horse slaughterhouse. Let's hope so, anyway.

But perhaps there might be at least one good outcome from this awful chapter in our legislative history: If Tulsa World readers follow through with their vows, lots of those lawmakers who supported horse slaughter and blithely ignored the wishes of voters might get booted out of office. (To learn how lawmakers voted go to or

Several developments in recent years could mean there won't be a slaughterhouse anywhere in the U.S. any time soon: pending federal legislation; stricter requirements for exported horse meat; persistent documentation issues, and a growing meat-fraud scandal.

And, there's a growing movement across the country, articulated by the nation's top agricultural official, to find a solution other than slaughter for managing the country's horse population.

Just a few weeks ago, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called for developing a "third way" to deal with unwanted or unneeded horses.

Vilsack called on Congress to "come up with a better solution for handling unwanted horses than slaughtering the animals for meat for human consumption."

Vilsack's agency is reviewing five applications for slaughterhouses, including reportedly one from Oklahoma, although it is unclear if the Oklahoma application is still being pursued.

The secretary wasn't specific about what he meant by a third option, but suggested as examples that these horses could be used in programs to help returning war veterans or prison inmates.

Apparently a number of federal lawmakers agree with his stance. Pending federal legislation would ban the slaughter of American horses for human consumption and prohibit transporting them across the U.S. border to Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses.

The measure, called the Safeguard American Food Exports Act, is in part a response to reports that horse meat has been found in food products in Europe and wrongly identified as beef.

The meat-fraud scandal began in early February when the British food protection agency found horse meat in a frozen lasagna product labeled as 100 percent beef, according to a Feb. 26 Washington Post report.

As more investigation ensued, Europeans learned the meat-switching involved "a multinational network of traders, factory owners and marketers."

The investigation has found that meat fraud could be commonplace and that horse meat-laden products could have been sold across the European continent. "There is no telling how long the cheating has been going on or how much is undiscovered," concluded the Post.

The discoveries have led to the removal of numerous frozen foods from "hundreds of multinational-chain supermarkets in at least 16 countries," and "a dozen national investigations have been launched." There's now even talk of mandatory DNA testing for such products, among other steps.

Think something like this can't happen here in Oklahoma? Think again: According to a recent report, it already has. The reason Oklahoma leaders adopted a ban on horse slaughter for human consumption in Oklahoma, according to the report, was because it was found in what was supposed to be beef hamburgers in a couple of fast-food restaurants back in the early 1960s.

Just the beginning

Meat fraud isn't the only scandal dogging the horse-slaughter business. Ensuring proper documentation of the eligibility of horses to be slaughtered for export, as well as the conditions of their transport to slaughterhouses, is a persistent problem.

According to a federal review of USDA's ability to ensure humane transport, "many owner/shipper certificates, which document compliance .... are being returned to USDA without key information, if they are returned at all."

The agency rarely takes action against any owners or shippers who are found to be in violation of transport regulations, nor has it been able to track horses that have been given drugs that would render them ineligible for slaughter and human consumption, according to a series of articles on horse slaughter run by Forbes magazine.

A Canadian survey, according to the Forbes reports, found that Equine Information Documents required by the government there had "missing and incomplete information on the horses' previous owners or agents and misidentification of horses in accompanying photographs."

It recently came to light that allegations of some shippers falsifying health forms are being investigated in Oklahoma. Agriculture Secretary Jim Reese confirmed the investigation, now before a state multicounty grand jury.

Allegations also include stolen property, concealing stolen property, transporting stolen property across state lines and other crimes.

It's not much of a stretch to imagine that the foreign markets might some day turn their noses up at American horse meat, given the documentation issues. Wouldn't be much need for slaughterhouses then.

Why would state leaders want to get into a business fraught with so many troubles? Oklahoma had the chance to be a pioneer in developing a humane, appropriate response to managing the nation's horse population - or at least the state's - but instead leaders here chose the most objectionable route, one that experience shows will lead to a never-ending quagmire of legal and environmental problems, controversy, and divisive debate and activism. To those who think the problems related to this issue are over: They've just begun.

Janet Pearson 918-581-8328

No comments: