Talk of establishing a horse slaughter plant in this country is on the front burner.
According to intense research, prices being paid for average and low quality horses are the lowest in modern times. Likewise, reports of horses being turned loose in the wild are soaring as offers of free horses are nearly overloading internet and other media outlets.
A Wyoming state legislator with designs to start a horse slaughter operation has said that it would be part of a broader plan to rescue abandoned or unwanted horses.
Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, said the nonprofit United Organizations of the Horse would accept donated horses, either from the Wyoming Livestock Board or individuals. She told about 230 feral horses the Wyoming Livestock Board sold recently for $1 each during a public sale in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
Horses would be evaluated and either sent to rehabilitation, rejuvenation or slaughter, according to Wallis. “We think that we will probably work up to the point where we’re killing 20 horses a day,” she said.
Wallis pointed out that since slaughter was taken off the table as an option for horses in America, the industry has fallen on hard times. “Many of us believe that the best and responsible solution is humane slaughter and good use of that meat,” she pointed out.
Wallis explained that the organization has started negotiations with the Wyoming Livestock Board to take over the Cheyennestockyards. “It is not where we are going to slaughter horses,” Wallis noted as she described it as being an intake facility.
Wallis envisions a mobile slaughter operation that can be taken to different areas of the state, similar to one that exists in South Dakota for buffalo. She emphasized they are working with Temple Grandin, an animal behaviorist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., on designing a humane slaughter process.
The meat would primarily be marketed for zoo feed and pet diets, Wallis related. “And we already have customers for those products,” added Wallis, who also believes there may be a small market for human consumption within the state.
Wallis shared that she has eaten horse meat on a trip to Canada and found it tasted good and was tender. “The rest of the world just sees this as an ordinary food source,”
she contended. It is unclear whether the federal government would consider horse
products legal to enter commerce for human consumption, even within the state.
Congress yanked the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s funding to inspect horse slaughterhouses in 2006, effectively shutting down such operations. The USDA cannot get involved. Interstate distribution of meat is barred. The particulars of canning the meat have yet to be worked out, according to Wallis.
“We are still evaluating possible locations, but it will probably be an existing meat processing facility somewhere in the state,” she said.
Dale Steenbergen, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce, explained that if the possibility of a slaughterhouse coming to
Cheyenne becomes more than a rumor, then the chamber may discuss it.
On a personal note, Steenbergen, who is involved in ranching, feels that it would be good to have some discussion on what to do with abandoned horses. He stated that he had one turned out on him last year.
“Is it better to starve them to death or put them down humanely?” he questioned. “We’ve got to figure out something to do because this is a huge, huge problem.”
The plan has caused a stir among the state’s animal welfare and animal rights activists, who question both the legality and morality of such a slaughterhouse.
The number of U.S. horses slaughtered in North America has dropped nearly 40 percent since its peak in 2007, the last year horses were processed in the United Statesafter a federal district court ordered the Department of Agriculture to stop inspecting horse slaughter facilities.
The nation’s last three slaughter plants, one in Illinoisand two in Texas, closed in 2007, under state court rulings.
According to the USDA’s latest figures, released in March, 88,276 horses were slaughtered in North America during 2009, a decrease of 38 percent from the decade high of 140,911 horses processed in 2007.
From 2001-2009, the mean number of horses slaughtered each year was 97,954. So while this past year’s total is below average, the number of horses slaughtered in Mexico and Canada is historically high, making up for the lack of production in the United States.
This divisive issue continues to inspire legislative actions on both sides of the debate, which is being played out at state and federal levels, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, H.R. 503/S. 727, is still pending in Congress. It would prevent any horse slaughter facility from operating in the United States as
well as prohibit the shipment of horses to other countries for processing.
While the federal legislation and the states moving to allow slaughter facilities seem to be at odds, the sticking point could be the phrase “for human consumption.”
The federal legislation doesn’t address horse slaughter for other purposes, so the question for states considering new plants might be whether they can make money processing animals for purposes other than human consumption.
State legislators who recently introduced bills that would open the way for horse-processing plants in their states or resolutions opposing H.R. 503 say they are responding to intense pressure from their constituents.
Resolutions concerning horse slaughter have recently passed in Arkansas, California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, but failed in Georgia, Idaho and Minnesota. Resolutions are still under consideration in Tennesseeand Arizona.
Kansas adopted a resolution urging Congress to oppose federal legislation to ban the slaughter of horses and the transport of horses for slaughter.