Believe it or not, this week I was planning on writing one of those “dog that did not bark” stories about the fact that in no state has re-starting horse slaughter come up as a legislative issue.
Sorry, I was the guy waiting in the harbor for a ship to come in while the party I was meeting arrived by train.
Instead of doing legislative jujitsu up in Laramie, Wyoming lawmaker Sue Wallis is on the road with a business plan for building a horse slaughter and processing plant in rural Missouri.
Wyoming’s State Rep. Wallis suffers with the moniker “Slaughterhouse Sue” from her advocacy for building a horse slaughter operation in the Cowboy State as an economic development project. Wallis was just about the only one who did think it was a good idea.
Now “Slaughterhouse Sue” is back as Chief Executive Officer of Unified Equine, LLC, with a business plan for locating a new horse slaughterhouse and horse meat processing plant at an industrial park between Mountain Grove and Cabool, Missouri.
The last three horse slaughter operations were closed more than five years ago after Congress pulled the USDA meat inspectors from the plants. USDA again has authority to inspect horse meat, and many think it’s only a matter of time before slaughter in the U.S resumes somewhere.
Wallis clearly wants to be the first. In public meetings, she is touting the 40 to 55 jobs such a slaughterhouse would bring to the area, which is about 70 miles east of Springfield. The Twin Cities Board, the local economic development organization, is carrying Unified Equine’s water.
“I think two years from now if you come down and talk to me, people are going to be glad this is here, and it will be a great success, but it needs to be done right,” says the TC’s Roger Lindsey.
Wallis is pitching her American-owned company. The last horse slaughter operations in the U.S. were foreign-owned.
The end of U.S. horse slaughter has been far from clean. The main concern is the often inhumane shipment of horses from the U.S. to Canada and Mexico for slaughter as those countries have not ended the practice.
Wallis expected a warm welcome for the planned $6- to $7 million investment and all those new jobs in economically hurting rural Missouri, but instead she has faced emotional crowds with some hostile questions.
The horse slaughter plan has generated enough controversy that the Ozarks Family YMCA withdrew from its agreement to host a public meeting on the issue.
Too many uncared-for horses are one of the signs the country has gone through severe economic distress. One horse can eat $200 worth of hay in a month, according to Duane Adams, who runs the Harmony Equine Center near Franktown, CO.
Throughout the West, there have been instances of horse rescue operations becoming overwhelmed, and county sheriffs finding starving and skinny animals. There are an estimated 6,000 unwanted horses in Colorado alone.
John Malone, the largest private landowner in the U.S. and chief executive of Liberty Media, says “the big picture is that 130,000 (U.S.) horses a year are being sent to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada.”
Malone is concerned about whether those shipments are being done humanely.
Unlike many of us, Malone is in a position to do something about it. He’s putting up $7- to $8 million to ensure that the Harmony Equine Center can back up smaller rescue centers.
The Bureau of Animal Protection in Colorado estimates euthanasia costs as much as $600 per animal once disposal is included. It helps explain why starvation on the hoof is a fact.
So while unwanted horses have not been a legislative issue in 2012, the economics are driving the problem. Horse people like Sue Wallis and John Malone are trying to improve the situation, but we’ve got a long way to go.