Equine processing issue to be studied first from a legal standpoint
The North Dakota Legislature's general fund appropriation of $50,000 to study the feasibility of an equine processing facility will require a matching grant and a legal review before funds are spent on investigation into economic feasibility, acc...
The North Dakota Legislature's general fund appropriation of $50,000 to study the feasibility of an equine processing facility will require a matching grant and a legal review before funds are spent on investigation into economic feasibility, according to John Mittleider, manager of Agriculture and Energy Development at the North Dakota Department of Commerce in Bismarck.
"The only way that they can obtain that $50,000 is on a dollar-for-dollar match basis," he says.
Fortunately, the Agricultural Product Utilization Commission was suggested by lawmakers and is has now released $30,000 for the study. The state's product utilization commission is tasked with bringing money and jobs into North Dakota through grants to support the development of new ways to use agricultural products. The equine processing study is one of four projects being partially funded by the commission. Together with the general fund appropriations now released, the APUC matching grant brings the funding for the study to $60,000.
Is it legal?
The study has been divided into two specific phases.
Phase I looks "at the laws, rules, regulations, etc., that apply at the federal and state level, to see whether this is even something that is legal to do," Mittleider says.
Phase II, which would study the viability of equine processing in North Dakota from an economic standpoint, would be conducted if Phase I results suggested horse processing in North Dakota were lawful.
Conducting the first phase, however, may present some issues.
According to Mittleider, during North Dakota's 2009 legislative session, where the study first was proposed, there were some conflicting pieces of evidence presented that created uncertainty among some lawmakers. Further, federal lawmakers in Washington also are wrangling with horse slaughter issues, and their efforts could end up canceling out or contradicting lawmaking efforts in North Dakota.
"There were some things going on at the federal level that might have changed the dynamics of this issue," Mittleider says. "So we were required to study that issue."
One of these federal lawmaking efforts was the passage of a bill that prevents USDA from inspecting equine slaughter facilities, he says. Since meats apparently cannot be shipped interstate or internationally without inspection, this likely would be a roadblock issue.
"It's those kind of laws that have come into place and those rules and regulations that have come into place that we are expected to study and see if there are opportunities," he says. "And the answer could be, 'There are not.' If in fact, we find, in the course of our study, that we just cannot transport equine meat across state or international borders, then we're going to have to come up with some ideas for our Legislature."
These ideas would be addressed until the 2011 Legislature session.
Meantime, Mittleider also will be looking into some new USDA rules that govern smaller slaughter facilities and whether they can include horses and whether they can get by with state inspections.
"We don't know at this juncture because those rules are in process," he says. "So there may opportunities down the road; there may not be."
Finally, there is one more horse-related issue under discussion that could slow the entire process of deciding what to do with unwanted horses.
"The Congressional Budget Office is studying this whole issue of what to do with wild horses and the plight of horses being abandoned," he says. "So there are several things going on right now at the federal level."
The final report will be due when the next state legislative session meets in January 2011.
Before then, he says, there still is a chance for equine processing in North Dakota.
"If federal law would allow, an equine processing plant could go forward at any time, and the Legislature wouldn't have to address it," Mittleider says.