“It’s just another entry in the horse slaughter saga.”
That might be considered a bit snide interpretation, but after so much rigmarole and controversy, one could easily get the feeling that whatever is announced, processing of horses in this country is still a long ways off.
No less than a half dozen times in two years, main media sources have announced that machinery was in place so horse packing plants could be open within days.
This time, the story on the forefront seems the same, as those from all directions continue their distinct opinions of what’s right, what’s wrong, why should, why shouldn’t horses be processed for meat?
Debate continues with government regulators, business interests, horse breeders and owners, outspoken-good-doers, big-dollar fundraising humane interests, legal negotiators and even those who sure wouldn’t mind having a horse steak for supper, as packing facility owners want to open their doors for horse processing right now.
After months of delay, an appeals court judge has lifted an emergency injunction blocking three packing companies from processing horses for meat, and now these proposed operations may be able to move forward, as has been previously announced.
In its Friday, Dec. 13, ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit said animal-rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Front Range Equine Rescue, “failed to meet their burden” for continuing an injunction
Congress effectively banned horse slaughter in 2006 by halting United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) plant inspections. Due to Congressional action that lifted the ban in 2011, USDA is required to grant inspection for facilities to engage in commercial horse slaughter.
Proposed operations include Valley Meat Company in New Mexico, Responsible Transportation in Iowa, and Rains Natural Meats in Missouri.
Plaintiffs in the case had argued that the operations could produce “irreversible environmental harm from toxic horse slaughter byproducts,” and that USDA did not carry out proper environmental assessments.
However, the appeals court ruled that the animal advocate groups did not provide sufficient evidence that the operations would cause irreparable harm to the environment.
The animal advocate groups plan to continue to file appeals for a permanent ban.
Although horse meat is not sold for human consumption in the United States, some horse welfare groups, including the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), do not oppose the facilities due to the overpopulation of horse herds on native lands and the subsequent resource depletion.
Another issue is one of animal welfare-specifically, abandonment of unwanted horses, as well as inhumane treatment.
However, the New Mexico business attempting to revive the horse slaughtering industry was stymied by another legal hurdle less than one week after the federal order blocking the practice was lifted.
The New Mexico attorney general filed a lawsuit against Valley Meat Company to process horsemeat to export from the United States.
A plant in Iowa has since decided to focus on beef processing instead, and a Missouri plant still hopes to open early next year to process horses for consumption in other countries.
New Mexico attorney general Gary King, who is running for state governor in 2014, said he is suing Valley Meat Company for violating state and federal environmental and safety laws.
“There is absolutely no merit to his claims. It’s a frivolous lawsuit, and it’s a shame that we have an attorney general that would engage in this type of political grandstanding at the expense of the taxpayers in New Mexico,” said Blair Dunn, an attorney representing both Valley Meat and Rains Natural Meat in Missouri.
Federal legislation has also been introduced in the United States House and Senate that includes language to defund the practice.
Dunn believes Valley Meat Company will open despite the lawsuits. “The only thing really working against Valley and their lawful business going forward is frivolous lawsuits by the Humane Society, and now the attorney general’s office of New Mexico,” Dunn said.
The Humane Society brought the initial lawsuit against the plants and is philosophically opposed to horse slaughter. “The horses are disreputably obtained, they suffer during transport and slaughter, we have no history of doing this, they are not raised for this purpose,” said Wayne Pacelle, chief executive officer of the Humane Society of United States.
Dunn said Rains Valley Meats in Gallatin, Missouri, already has horses ready to be processed, and the company is just waiting for permits from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).
“I think they’re just sorting out the logistics, and should be able to open in the next several weeks,” he said.
The Food Safety Inspection Service issued permits to the Iowa and New Mexico companies earlier this year.
Keaton Walker at Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, Iowa, said the company’s beef operation was struggling against better-established competitors, and he planned to make a decision by early January to sell the plant unless he knew for sure that he could process horses.
It is the third time in five months that the horse plants have been scrambling to open.
Valley, which led the effort to resume domestic horse slaughter two years ago after Congress lifted its ban on the practice, along with Rains and Responsible, were preparing to open in August when The Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection groups sued to contest the Department of Agriculture’s permitting process.
A federal judge in Albuquerque issued a temporary restraining order, prompting the Iowa company to convert its operations to beef. But U.S. District Judge Christine Armijo threw out the lawsuit in November, allowing all three companies to proceed.
The animal protection groups filed an immediate appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued an emergency motion that again blocked the plants from opening. The appellate court lifted that order.
The Humane Society said “the fight for America’s horses is not over.”
For 15 years, the Rains Natural Meats facility, less than an hour northeast of Kansas City, has processed beef, pork and even ostrich. But for the first time ever, horses will be slaughtered at the 7,000 square-foot facility.
“We’re a small family deal that’s just trying to make a living and create jobs and make things better,” said David Rains, owner of Rains Natural Meats.
“You’ve got extremely high quality meat protein that the world is starving for to help feed hungry people with these animals that are going to be destroyed anyway. What’s wrong with that?” Rains questioned.
Groups like the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation find the methods of corralling the horses to be inhumane.
“Horses are skittish, they have a flight response, they’re much more difficult to hit with the gun, there’s just a whole host of abuses associated with it,” Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, said.
Expecting to initially slaughter 30 horses in a week, Rains insisted there is a high demand for horse meat in France, China and Russia.
With customers also lined up to buy the horse meat, Rains said the issue has been so contentious that he and his family have received death threats, and a threatening letter has been turned over to the FBI.
“We are taking it pretty seriously,” Rains said. “People are 100 percent for it, or 100 percent against, and there’s probably not much luck in changing anybody’s mind on either side.”
One opinion publicly posted over the weekend presents this view:
“You need to be more concerned about our country and government, our children, starving unfortunate people in the world, our troops who fight for us, the Ten Commandments, school shootings, teen pregnancy and STD; this is just a few. Come to Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and the states where horses and cattle are.
“There are starving horses, old horses, broncy horses, and horses that aren’t fit to ride. Hay is expensive; corn and feed keep getting higher. People are literally turning unwanted horses lose on roads and into other people’s pastures. What is the answer to this? It’s the same as the dog and cat population. Why don’t you move out of the city to the country and take all the unwanted horses and feed them?
“People are against horse, cattle, deer, hog and game processing. I’m sure 90 percent of the people eat beef and chicken on a regular basis. Oh yeah, and drink milk. If it wasn’t for the ranchers, horsemen, dairymen and farmers, people would literally starve to death. Why not give starving people in the world horse meat. They’re dying to eat anything.
“Is your dog and cat food organic? Do zoo animals eat plants? If people overseas want to eat horse meat, that’s their business. It’s not a perfect world. It’s part of life. The wild horses that are government owned, have thousands of acres. Have you been to the desert and mountains? It takes a horse hundreds of acres to eat in that environment.
“Think about our country and children and put as much into them. Our country is dwindling down the drain, and you’re worried about horse slaughter.”