The news story began with a simple declarative sentence:
“A U.S. District Court judge in St. Louis will decide if a meat processor in Gallatin, Mo., can begin slaughtering horses.”
How the story ends is as yet unknown, but for once, some sanity has been injected into the rancorous and polarizing fight over whether horses should be slaughtered here in the United States, under USDA’s watchful eyes, or shipped off elsewhere to meet the same fate, although likely under less desirable circumstances.
Because that’s what the argument is really about: Not whether horses should be slaughtered or whether . . . well, the opponents don’t really articulate what the alternative might be, but they’d like us to imagine a quiet, peaceful death in which the horse is surrounded by both human and equine loved ones, followed by a ceremonious burial with appropriate readings from Scripture.
Truth is, when horses grow old, when owners cannot afford their keep, or when they’ve simply been abandoned, the two choices are whether they will be slaughtered here or in Mexico or Canada. Not whether there any horse plants allowed to operate or not, but simply where in North America we prefer the animals be dispatched.
Right now, as numerous sources have noted, an estimated 175,000 horses are shipped each year to Mexico and Canada for slaughter, with most of the meat exported to Europe and Japan. Even as Valley Meat in New Mexico struggles to re-open as a horse plant, a business owner in Missouri awaits the federal court’s decision on whether a Missouri meat plant can also be permitted to handle horses.
What’s most interesting is that the owner, David Rains, describes himself as a horse owner, and getting into the business of horse slaughter was not necessarily part of some master plan.
“We’re horse people," Rains told KQTV, an ABC affiliate in St. Joseph, Mo. “We have 10 horses of our own we use for riding and catching cows and gathering cows.”
But after his small plant, Rains Natural Meats, was forced to closed last year because of financial struggles, horsemeat emerged a potential alternative. In addition eyeing the export market, Rains told KQTV that there is a “severe problem” with horse overpopulation.
“There are horses that are mean,” he told the station. “There are horses that are past their prime that people can no longer afford to take care of.”
A switch in tactics
According to the story, Rains retrofitted his meat processing plant, which had previously processed cattle, pigs, elk, deer and bison, to handle only horses. And now he awaits the court’s ruling in response to a legal challenge by the Humane Society of the United States, which resulted in a temporary injunction to prevent the plant from opening.