Rains Natural Meats hopes to turn their facility into a horse slaughterhouse.
GALLATIN, Mo. — A Daviess County man who wants to begin slaughtering and processing horse meat awaits a court hearing today could further delay his business attempt. David Rains has already modified the plant just east of Gallatin, Mo., to accept horses rather than the beef, pork, elk, bison and venison that Rains Natural Meats previously processed. Mr. Rains offered the News-Press an exclusive tour of the facility earlier this week.
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.
SANTA FE — The Navajo Nation is about to wade into the heated debate over a horse meat processing plant in Roswell and will support Valley Meat Co. becoming the first horse slaughterhouse in the U.S. in seven years.
“They’re eating up the land and drinking all the water,” Erny
Zah, spokesman for Navajo Nation President Ben Shelley told New Mexico Watchdog of the feral horses on Navajo Nation land that encompasses 27,425 square miles, including parts of Arizona and Utah as well as a large section of northwest New Mexico.
Zah estimated there are 20,000 to 30,000 “feral horses on our lands,” and that Navajo Nation lawyers in Washington, D.C., are in the process of finalizing a letter that Shelly will sign in support of the horse slaughter facility “with the next couple of days.”
“I’m sympathetic to the native nations but all this is going to do is make New Mexico the slaughter state,” said Phil Carter of Animal Protection New Mexico, one of the facility’s opponents. “We have to move forward beyond this outdated and cruel slaughter model.”
The debate over the facility in Roswell has sparked heated arguments that extend beyond state borders.Opponents of the facility include Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, former Gov. Bill Richardson, state Attorney General Gary King and
State Land Commissioner Ray Powell, as well as actor Robert Redford and animal rights groups. The Humane Society of the United States is one of a slew of plaintiffs seeking an injunction to stop the company from opening its slaughterhouse operations.
Supporters say that given the rising cost of hay, horses have been abandoned and left to starve. They argue it’s better to have unwanted and dying horses killed in a federall -inspected facility in the U.S. than have them sent to plants in places like Mexico, where they often meet gruesome deaths in unsanitary conditions.
“Which would you rather do, put them down in a humane fashion or let them starve to death,” the facility’s attorney Blair Dunn
said earlier this month. The debate has become more intense as Valley Meat Co. hopes to open as soon as Aug. 5. A federal court hearing is set for Friday in Albuquerque
Last Saturday, a fire broke out at the company and officials suspect it may have been deliberately set. The blaze burned part of the exterior of Valley Meat Co.’s building and damaged a refrigeration unit. A Chaves County sheriff’s lieutenant described the fire as “very suspicious.”
“It was an act of domestic terrorism,” Dunn told the Texas-New Mexico Newspapers Partnership Tuesday.
Zah said the Navajo Nation’s decision to weigh in on the matter is “more economic” than anything else.
“We’re already in a drought,” Zah said. “We already have our registered cattle and sheep and registered horses to care for. We’re concerned about water and vegetation” being eaten by feral horses. Zah said a horse slaughter facility in Roswell is simply closer and more cost-effective.
“We need some place to take them,” he said. “There are other options but they are more costly …The plant Roswell provides us this opportunity.”
But Carter says there are other options, including injecting horses with contraceptives, gelding stallions and euthanizing them.
But isn’t that expensive?
Carter points to the New Mexico Equine Protection Fund that his group administers and says the cost to tending to feral horses has been reduced to about $200 per head. “And there’s no reason those costs couldn’t come down more,” Carter said.
“They’re sacred animals,” Zah acknowledged but added, “We also have a kinship with our land. There’s a delicate balance there. Everything is related, everything is intertwined. When one is out of balance, we have to take care of that delicate balance.”
Supporters of the plant have estimated there are 9,000 feral horses on Mescalero Apache land in southern New Mexico. Numerous phone calls from New Mexico Watchdog to Alfred LaPaz, acting president of the Mescalero tribe, seeking comment have gone unanswered.
The battle over the first horsemeat processing plant in the U.S. in seven years is heating up, with a court hearing in Albuquerque fast approaching.
The facility in Roswell is scheduled to open in two weeks but in the latest development, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King has joined a lawsuit trying to stop the slaughterhouse from opening its doors — something a lawyer for the plant dismissed as “political grandstanding.”
Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reluctantly granted approval to the Valley Meat Co. to convert its cattle facility into a horse processing plant, prompting a number of animal rights groups including the Humane Society of the United States to seek a federal court injunction to keep the plant from opening.
Attorney General King’s filed a motion last Friday saying the state wants to ensure that “commercial operations within its borders are conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.” Last month in a legal analysis, King said “state law does not allow for production of meat that is chemically tainted under federal regulations.” Part of the argument by opponents claims that the meat may contain chemicals that could harm people who eat it.
“Legally, the AG’s office is in left field,” Blair Dunn, attorney for Valley Meat Co., told New Mexico Watchdog on Monday (July 22). “It’s just not the threat he’s purporting it to be. This is a publicity stunt. It has to do with run for governor. Coming from his agricultural background, he should know better. There is not an issue with food safety.”
A spokesman for King said he had no comment about Dunn’s remarks but in a news release, King cited a study saying the Food and Drug Administration that “indicates a serious gap in food safety and constitutes a significant public health risk.”
The New Mexico Environment Department added another roadblock for Valley Meat Co. late Monday by declining a request to renew the firm’s wastewater discharge permit. The NMED says it won’t renew the permit without a public hearing, noting it has received more than 450 comments against letting the former cattle slaughterhouse open as a horse slaughter plant. Valley Meat Co. attorney Blair Dunn cried foul, saying the agency was unfairly targeting a small family-owned business. He says the plant can still open, but would have to haul its own waste.
The processing plant has ignited passions and divided ranchers, farmers, animal lovers and everyday citizens in New Mexico.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has opposed it, saying that “horses are a part of our culture.” On Monday (July 22), former Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, along with actor Robert Redford, announced the formation of a nonprofit that is joining the lawsuit against the facility. Richardson said he’d do “whatever it takes to stop the return of horse slaughterhouses in this country and, in particular, my own state.”
Supporters of the plant say that given the rising cost of hay, horses have been abandoned and left to starve in the Southwest and maintain it’s better to have unwanted and dying horses killed in a federally-inspected facility than have them sent to plants in places like Mexico, where they often meet gruesome deaths in unsanitary conditions.
“Which would you rather do, put them down in a humane fashion or let them starve to death,” Dunn said.
“Horse slaughter has no place in our culture,” Redford said in a statement. “It is cruel, inhumane, and perpetuates abuse and neglect of these beloved animals.”
The plant is scheduled to open on Aug. 5 but the hearing in federal court about the injunction is set for Aug. 2 in Albuquerque before Judge M. Christina Armijo. Since giving the Roswell plant the OK, the USDA also recently granted approval for a horse slaughter facility in Iowa and is poised to approve one in Missouri.
Dunn says he’ll ask for $25 million at the Aug. 2 hearing, as bond ”to cover potential lost revenue” to the facilities should they be delayed in opening for business.
How did the situation arise?
Back in 2006, a prohibition was placed in the U.S. preventing horse slaughter and the last plant was closed in 2007. But in 2011, Congress quietly removed the rider enforcing the ban from an omnibus spending act.
Attorneys for Valley Meat took the USDA and its Food Safety and Inspection Service to court and forced their hand. Earlier this
year, the USDA said it “is legally required to issue a grant of inspection” even though the Obama administration has also come out against lifting the ban.
“Until Congress acts, the Department must continue to comply with current law,” USDA spokeswoman Courtney Rowe told Associated Press June 28.
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