The federal hearing in Albuquerque, N.M., pertains to a lawsuit filed by The Humane Society of the United States and other groups against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with Rains as one of the parties. The suit alleges that environmental reviews were not conducted regarding a New Mexico-issued permit to slaughter horses. The society is leading efforts to prevent a resumption to horse slaughtering that was banned by Congress seven years ago.
Rains Natural Meats first opened in 1998 to process antibiotic- and hormone-free organic products, but closed last year after Mr. Rains’ brother, Steve, underwent knee replacements. A bid to sell the business ended once prospects opened for a joint venture. “Then we made connections with the horse people,” he said, referring to a partnership with Chevaline, a Wyoming equine firm that would provide marketing assistance. “If you do horses, you can’t do anything else.”
Feral horses rounded up from Western states would supply the business. Mr. Rains said the switch has caused him to have pigs butchered elsewhere. Department regulations also restrict horse meat from being stored in the same freezer with other meat products, he said.
Rather than using a captive bolt-stunning gun before slaughter, Mr. Rains said he would use .410- caliber slugs as the primary
means to kill the horses — with .22-caliber Magnum cartridges as a secondary method. Once placed into a padded chute, Mr. Rains said a light would switch on to blind the horse in a USDA-recommended measure. All holding pens have been covered in plywood to reduce the odds of horses escaping through a gate.
The number of horses the facility could handle is undetermined. “We honest to goodness don’t know,” Mr. Rains said. “We could maybe do 10 a day. Right now we’re thinking 30 a week.” For now, the company remains idle, due to the inability to cross species in its meat processing. Depending on developments, it’s conceivable that Rains Natural Meats could choose a return to its previous processing.
“I’ve had people lined up to work,” he said. “All I’ve got to do is call them. The market’s there ... We’ve got to survive on a niche.” The horse meat would be available to domestic and international markets for pet and human food. Assisting regional and global hunger relief programs is another motivation.
“We actually have zoos that are interested in doing samples,” Mr. Rains said.
Horsemeat, he said, is higher in protein, lower in fat and higher in good Omega-3 fatty acids. Some Americans will choose to eat horse meat, he added, although its consumption is more widespread in Europe and Asia.
A Missouri Department of Natural Resources lagoon permit must also be renewed, in line with the procedures that the New
Mexico plant and another in Iowa must follow. Every horse would be tested for drug residue at a University of Missouri lab and USDA officials also would perform random testing for animal pharmaceuticals, with the rejections discarded.
The horses would come through certified buyers of the International Equine Business Association. The Native American tribes of Navajo, Hopi and Yakama also have joined the lawsuit in hopes of resolving excessive feral horse populations on their lands in New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
Processing horse meat could start in two weeks, pending the government actions, Mr. Rains said. Amanda Good, the Humane Society’s Missouri director, said there are several reasons the organization opposes horse slaughtering. “Missouri can expect protests, negative press and trucks full of suffering horses being hauled into our state, risking accidents and injuries to motorists on our highways,” she said of one example.