A couple of obscure agriculture bills in a faraway red state might not seem to be urgent political fare, but if you make the mistake of eating hamburgers, of if you care about treating animals with dignity, you should keep a close eye on the fate of these initiatives. Together, they represent the most insidious effort we’ve seen in decades to expand the scope of industrially produced animal products.
On Tuesday, February 5, Oklahoma lawmakers will introduce bills SB375 and HB1999 to the state’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. A couple of obscure agriculture bills in a faraway red state might not seem to be urgent political fare, but if you make the mistake of eating hamburgers, of if you care about treating animals with dignity, you should keep a close eye on the fate of these initiatives. Together, they represent the most insidious effort we’ve seen in decades to expand the scope of industrially produced animal products.
SB 375 effectively seeks to authorize the opening of horse slaughterhouses in Oklahoma. The last horse slaughter plants in the United States were shut down in 2007. This left the United States to ship upwards of 200,000 horses (many of them mustangs removed by the Bureau of Land Management to clear space for cattle) to Canadian and Mexican abattoirs, from where the meat goes to European markets. Oklahoma, which keeps a substantial portion of these horses in holding pens, is eager to keep this business local. What it would it also like to keep local is the resulting flesh. HB1999 aims to legalize the production and sale of horsemeat, or, as one interested party insisted that we now call it: “cheval.”
To think that this meat will not end up in the nation’s beef supply is to misunderstand the industrial food system. Recently, Polish horsemeat was found in Irish burgers. The average American burger is subject to the same unregulated adulteration. As Forbes’ Vickery Eckhoff writes, “Your average burger is a big mash-up of edible scraps and parts from different cows from different plants, often from different states (and even countries), with fat and additives ground in, all of which makes Polish horse meat ending up in Irish beef patties a bit easier to understand.” She adds, “Yes, it could happen here.”
Of course, it’s illegal to incorporate horsemeat into ground beef. But, realistically speaking, that hardly matters. The corrupt underbelly of animal agriculture will digest anything. There’s zero regulation of what scraps from where enter into the meat’s labyrinthian supply chain. Oklahoma, with its “struggling racetracks” happy to dispose of “spent” horses alongside its sizable cattle industry is watering at the mouth, I would imagine, to feed the world cheap tubes of mystery meat. It’s not hard to envision a scenario whereby scraps from slaughterhouses are consolidated, processed, and incorporated as ground beef filler. It’s hard to understate how wealthy this culinary combo would make some people.
There’s more. As I’ve written before (as had Eckhoff, far more extensively), the introduction of horsemeat into the American meat supply is, corruption or no, an unprecedented public health disaster waiting to happen. Horses are medicated with drugs that could harm humans and these drugs, as I explained in Slate, have the power to make Mad Cow Disease look like a case of the sniffles:
The most common pharmacological concern when it comes to horse meat is an anti-inflammatory drug called phenylbutazone, or “bute.” Whatever the exact lineup of drugs administered, many racehorses receive a steady dosage of bute. For all its effectiveness in treating horse pain, however, bute, a carcinogen, is strongly linked with bone marrow and liver problems in humans. In fact, the danger it poses is so acute that the FDA has banned its use in animals intended for human consumption because, according to one peer-reviewed study in Food and Chemical Toxicology, “it causes serious and lethal idiosyncratic adverse effects in humans.”
I’m going to let you in on a little secret here: Oklahoma legislators know this and they DO NOT CARE. The bills slated to be heard on Tuesday are one small but tragic step in a much larger process of trying to legalize the slaughter, sale, and consumption of horses in the United States. It involves dozens of corrupt state and federal officials. And it’s all driven by greed and a complete disregard for animals and, frankly, the humans who are expected t eat them. With the help of Vickery Eckhoff (who truly “owns” this story), I plan to keep readers updated as this conspiracy of sorts unfolds.
In the meantime, ontact the Chair of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee in Oklahoma that has the power to decide whether to hear SB375 or not. Thank you!
Senator Eddie Fields
2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Rm. 416
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
Executive Assistant: Betsy Ingraham