Photo of former meatpacking plant set to be turned into horse slaughterhouse in Rockville, MO courtesy: KCTV5's Alice Barr
SPRINGFIELD, MO (KCTV/AP) -
A Wyoming company that processes horse meat for human consumption is working to open a plant in western Missouri, 90 miles from Kansas City, after cost considerations and local opposition stalled plans for another location in the state.
The owner said they hope to have the plant in Rockville, MO, up and running later this year, but some horse lovers are outraged by the plan.
In Rockville, livestock trailers are nearly as common as people, and most people have an idea of what horse slaughter would mean there.
"I don't see nothing wrong with it, and most people, anything that creates jobs is a plus for the city," Roger Garrison said.
The town suffered when a cattle meatpacking plant shut down a year ago, so the idea of a new tenant replacing it – and bringing 50 new jobs – isn't meeting much opposition.
"It would be just like having cows over there. It would be business and employees for everybody," Alice Norris said.
But the prospect of opening the country's first horse slaughterhouse since the ban was lifted is drawing heavy criticism across the country.
"Horses are an American icon, the animals that gave us this country, helped us establish this country, and today they are clearly our friends and companions," Bruce Wagman with Front Range Equine Rescue said.
Many people can't imagine killing the animals for food overseas, and some argue the process is inhumane and unsafe.
"All the American horses who are slaughtered for meat are literally toxic pools, and the meat is contaminated with a whole bunch of drugs," Wagman said.
"Absolutely bogus. The United States meat supply is the safest in the world, and every kind of meat goes through rigorous requirements in order to be eligible for human consumption. Horse meat is no different," Sue Wallis, CEO of Unified Equine, LLC and a Wyoming state representative, said of the claims.
Wallis is in the process of buying the former meatpacking plant and upgrading it for horse slaughter. She said similar methods and equipment are used for processing cattle and horses.
Once their upgrades are complete, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will have to certify that the plant is up to all appropriate codes before it can open. She hopes that can happen by the end of the summer.
Richard McIntyre, a spokesman for the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service, said Unified Equine has not yet applied for a federal grant of inspection that is required before the plant could operate.
Wallis argues their slaughterhouse is a humane alternative for horses that might otherwise be neglected or abandoned and, in Rockville, she has some allies.
"There's lots of horses that are just starving to death for no reason, other than there's no market for them," Garrison said.
If opened, USDA inspectors would be present at all times when the plant is operating.
Unified Equine earlier proposed converting a former gas pipeline production facility near Mountain Grove in southwest Missouri into a plant capable of processing up to 200 horses a day. But protests by residents and the anticipated conversion costs acted as a deterrent.
"We had pretty much made the decision that (it) was not the spot," Wallis told a local newspaper.
Last year, Congress removed a 5-year-old ban on funding federal horse meat inspections, making it possible to reopen horse slaughtering plants in the U.S.
Most of the meat from the Unified Equine plant would be sent overseas, Wallis said.
USDA officials have said it will take some time to develop procedures for testing and inspecting horse processing plants because no such facility has been inspected for six years.
Renee Bungart, a spokeswoman for Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said Unified Equine would likely have to apply for a number of permits related to pollution and construction, depending on the type of building and location.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) and The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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