Despite Disagreements, Horse Processing Story

Standing in front of the old slaughter house in Rockville, Mo., rancher Jim Bock emphasized  the positive economic impact that horse meat processing in the facility would have on people in the area

No shortage of controversy from every field, but evidently a horse slaughter plant will again operate in the United States.

For five years, since the final horse processing facility in this country closed, there have been continual rumors of another plant to open in Montana, Missouri, Idaho, Texas, Nebraska and perhaps other states.

None materialized, but four weeks ago, tittle-tattles had it that a plant in Rockport, Missouri, was going to process horses.

Again that was incorrect, according to announcement a few days later. Actually, negotiations are underway to reopen a former beef packing plant in Rockville, Missouri, with intent to strictly slaughter horses for meat for human consumption.

Sue Wallis, head of Unified Equine Missouri, said the facility at the edge of Rockville is being renovated to open in late summer for horse processing while creating 50 jobs.

“We are excited to be bringing jobs and opportunity to rural Missouri,” Wallis, a Wyoming state legislator. “And even happier to provide a humane and viable option to the horse industry, decimated by misguided efforts to end humane horse slaughter.”

Wallis promised: “Unified Equine Missouri will adhere to standards that go above and beyond minimum government requirements, and standards developed by the International Equine Business Association.”

These standards are said to include video surveillance to ensure humane handling and a sophisticated traceability protocol.

Congress restored funding for federal inspections of horse-packing plants last year. The plants had been unable to operate without the inspections.

“Our system will ensures to the extent possible that no stolen horse is mistakenly processed, and all horses processed are verified free of drug residues or contamination,” Wallis emphasized.

“Unwanted or unusable horses are at particularly high risk of abandonment and neglect, or being transported to other countries where neither the U.S. horse industry nor USDA has any jurisdiction over how they are handled,” Wallis said.

In March when a company, in which Wallis was also involved, wanted to open a horse slaughter operation in Mountain Grove, Mo., they were ran out of town, so to speak.

Cynthia McPherson, a Mountain Grove attorney who led her town’s opposition, remains an active opponent of horse slaughter.

“Sue Wallis claims this is a done deal, but it’s not,” McPherson said. “We’re going to do what we can to stop her.”

Rockville, in eastern Bates County, is less than a hundred miles south of Kansas City, and  has only about 150 people.

“That may be part of Wallis’ strategy,” McPherson said. “The community may be too small to put up much of a fight”

But, not everyone’s against the plant.

“Any time that something creates a job around here, it’s a good thing,” said Mike Williamson, who raises horses near Rockville.

“The town is all for it,” declared Rockville Mayor Dave Moore. “I think it’s great.”

About half of Rockville’s population packed a recent city council meeting to support the idea of reopening the facility.

Louis Stout, who formerly managed the beef plant, said opening it up would give the community a much-needed economic lift.

Re-opening it could also mean getting a fair price for a horse. Jim Bock, a Rockville rancher, said when horse slaughterhouses went away, the bottom fell out of the horse market.

He recently took eight horses to a sale, and got $100 after paying for blood tests and sales commission; that’s $12.50 a head.

Unified Equine settled on finding a location in Missouri, because it would put them close to major transportation hubs and within a few hundred miles of 30 percent of America’s horses.

At most, the plant could process 200 in a day.

Most of the meat would be destined for markets in China, Mexico and Europe.  However, there are immigrants from Tonga in Salt Lake City, Utah, Mongolians in Washington D.C., and Hispanic populations in South Florida interested in the specialty meat.

Wallis said that, in most of the world, the horse meat would cost 40 percent less than beef, and that could be true in the U.S., as well.

The Humane Society of the United States is pushing for legislation to ban not only the slaughter of horses in the U.S., but also their export for human consumption.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals oppose the killing of horses, and animals, period.

“I know  sentiment is that they don’t like horse slaughter,” said Kay Garrison, Rockville’s city treasurer and a horse trainer. “I don’t like it either. But rationally, they are livestock.”

While horse owners stand on both sides of the issue, there is apparently a majority who feel necessity of having a method for handling unwanted horses

However, those persons express concern that once the surplus of horses, which seems present at this time, is gone, there might not be sufficient numbers for economical continuation of the processing facility.