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Published August 27, 2012, 09:33 AM

US horse slaughter projects still not open

The status of three horse slaughter projects in the U.S. remains uncertain, according to key promoters, but all face political opposition.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

The status of three horse slaughter projects in the U.S. remains uncertain, according to key promoters, but all face political opposition.

Five years ago, Congress, pressured by the Humane Society of the United States, put riders on appropriations bills that prevented federal inspection of horse meat, effectively barring it for human consumption. In 2011, the law was changed back, but efforts to reinstate U.S. horse kill plants remain stalled.

Dave Duquette, 46, a Hermiston, Ore., horse trainer and president of United Horsemen, a non-profit, pro-slaughter group, says 70 percent of the world’s countries have too many variables to accurately predict when the industry will be able to start again. There is talk of slaughter facilities in 18 states and several American Indian tribes. Duquette declines to discuss what he knows about other plants on the grounds that it could invite obstructions from anti-slaughter organizations.

Duquette, a former U.S. Marine, told Agweek that his family has received numerous threats because of their support of the project. One website, www.negotiationisover.net, for example, calls him “Horse-Eater ‘Devil’ Dave Duquette” and accuses him of horse abuse. He says federal officials have been looking into threats he has received. He thinks nothing will happen on inspections for horse slaughters until after the November election.

“I wouldn’t tell anyone they’d be able to sell to any plant in the United States before the first of the year,” Duquette says. “The HSUS has vowed to litigate against anybody trying to do it.”

Duquette says one of the effects of the de facto slaughter ban is that “canner-buyers” acquiring horses for Canadian or Mexican plants are able to acquire now under-valued animals, leaving the anti-social horses that normally would go to slaughter. This includes tens of thousands of wild horses overpopulating some tribal rangelands. A U.S. Government Accountability Office study in 2011 said the slaughter ban coincided with increased exports to Canada and Mexico.

Here are Duquette’s updates about three known projects:

•Hermiston, Ore. — A greenfield plant location of nearly 300 acres would include a $4 million slaughter facility, with a daily capacity of about 100 animals and a $3.5 million rescue facility. “I’m hoping we’ll have something up and running by early 2013,” he says.

The rescue would have a total capacity of about 100 animals at a time, and would be supervised by university equine experts, with a full indoor training facility, and staffed by college interns.

“The majority we get in are going to be retrained and go back out,” he says. Duquette says the opening of the project depends on the availability of USDA slaughter inspection. He says it involves several American Indian tribes in the northwest, as well as private investors. It has no name, he says, and he’s reluctant to release too many details about it.

But he does say the facility will be “all about the welfare of the horses and the industry.” He says the slaughter facility will be focused on animals that are not viable for other purposes. Animal Liberation Front activists were convicted and imprisoned for burning Cavel West, a horse rendering facility 200 miles away in Redmond, Ore., in 1997. Duquette says there have been threats to burn down the Hermiston, Ore., plant if it’s built.

•Roswell, N.M. — Valley Meat Co., a former cow kill plant, is being considered for a switch to horses. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service so far has not approved federal inspection of the plant, pending completion of new protocols. Horse meat produced at the plant would be exported to Mexico. The plant had been slaughtering cattle for 20 years, but had discontinued operations early in 2012 because of the cost of cattle. USDA regulations prevent the processing of horses with any other livestock animal, Duquette says. He says protocols were available before the 2007 discontinuation of inspection. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, as well as the Democratic attorney general and state land commissioner, all have opposed it on grounds that horses are intelligent, gentle and loyal.

•Rockville, Mo. — Unified Equine LLC is promoting the conversion of a former cow kill plant to a potential horse slaughter plant about 90 miles south of Kansas City.

Sue Wallis, the plant’s CEO, is a former vice president of Duquette’s United Horsemen group. A Republican from Recluse, Wyo., Wallis has been in the Wyoming House of Representatives since 2007. She is a member of several humanities, sustainable agriculture and community enterprises. Her company has a partnership with Chevideco, a horse meat importer in Belgium, which had been linked to a defunct plant at Kaufman, Texas, which critics say had numerous environmental infractions. Wallis didn’t immediately return calls for comment. Duquette says if the Missouri plant isn’t opened soon for horses, it may revert back to beef until the horse slaughter inspection issues are settled.

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