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'On go:' Horse slaughter plants expected soon

Written by Christy Martinez
The late-November news that the five-year ban on horse slaughter had been lifted sparked a flurry of interest and news reports, and United Horsemen President Dave Duquette was in the midst of the whirlwind.
    “I did my first interview on a Tuesday, and the article came out Wednesday. My phone started ringing at five that morning and I did 25 interviews the first day, 10 the next and radio shows and tv spots followed,” he says.
    The news that broke in the midst of the Thanksgiving holiday was that Congress had not included a rider in the new ag spending bill that had previously prohibited USDA from funding inspectors for horsemeat.
    “This means that regulations go back to pre-2006,” says Duquette. “USDA can inspect horsemeat.”
    “I believe we’re on go. I’m optimistic this will happen,” says Bill Parker of the Billings Livestock Commission when asked about the future of horse slaughter in the United States.
    Slaughter plants for horses can be opened in all but four states, which have banned horse slaughter at that level. Those states include Texas, California, Illinois and Florida.
    Duquette says one rumor that’s being spread about horsemeat inspection is that it will cost taxpayers $5 million per year.
    “That’s false, because none of the people who inspected horsemeat were fired,” he explains. “They all still work for the USDA, and the agency won’t hire new people. The people who are already inspecting will just add one more plant. It won’t cost taxpayers any more than what USDA inspectors already cost.”
    Duquette points out another claim from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and its president Wayne Pacelle, who say their wrath will be upon any slaughterhouse that is opened.
    “Everyone we have as investors knows there’s nothing he can do,” says Duquette of Pacelle. “He’s out of options.”
    Duquette says there’s nothing to litigate.
    “It was a rider stripped off on the bill. There’s nothing to litigate, and Wayne knows that. There’s no way for them to do what they’re claiming they’ll do. I’m just a horse trainer from Oregon, but many people in D.C. say there’s no way to do it,” he notes.
    Duquette says slaughter proponents have done their due diligence over the last four years with the Government Accountability Office study that was released last summer, along with the right education for Congress to make the decision.
    He adds that one thing that helped with the politicians in D.C. is that the Indian tribes also joined in the call for horse slaughter.
    “The leader of the National Tribal Horse Coalition went to D.C. and said they weren’t looking for money, but that they have a huge problem and they were looking for the government to get out of the way so they could solve the problem,” says Duquette, adding that they have as big of a problem with horse populations as the BLM does. “The Navajo nation has over 70,000 feral horses, and the Yakima Indians have over 18,000 horses, and their reservation looks like a dirt lot. They’ve got a problem they can’t solve.”
    Although the tribes could open a slaughterhouse on their land, Duquette says it would have still been impossible for them to ship the meat, because it would have had to have a USDA stamp to go overseas.
    Of the claims by some that opening horse slaughter will lead to horses raised solely for meat purposes, Duquette says he tells them to do the math.
    “At a dollar a pound, which was the going rate at the height of horse slaughter, you show me someone who can raise a horse – as slow as they grow – to slaughter age and make money at $1,000. It just doesn’t work,” he explains.
    Another myth Duquette addresses is that American horses are only feeding wealthy Europeans.
    “In most countries horsemeat is half the price of beef,” he notes. “That’s one of the mind games the activists use with the public – they say don’t do it, because they’re feeding wealthy Frenchmen and Belgians. Iceland is almost strictly horsemeat and fish, because it’s half the cost of other meat, and 70 percent of the world’s countries eat horsemeat.”
    Some anti-slaughter activists claim that the use of phenylbutazone, or bute, disqualifies the meat for human consumption.
    “Bute is fully out the system in 30 days, and we have some ongoing studies to prove that,” says Duquette. “The reason bute is labeled not for human consumption is because they never did the testing. It costs millions of dollars to test drugs, but there’s never been one test of a piece of horsemeat that had any trace of bute.”
    Duquette notes that the U.S. pet food industry “adamantly” wants horsemeat to be available to them, and he says the U.S. imports millions of pounds of horsemeat back from Canada for zoo diets.
    “We send our horses across the border and pay a premium to bring horsemeat back to feed zoo animals,” he says.
    Duquette estimates the first slaughterhouse to be open in as little as three weeks to a month.
    “It’s a done deal, and the people who are doing it will make it happen. There are many in the horse industry who were diehard slaughter advocates, but who said they would never open again, but we did make it happen,” says Duquette.
    Where those plants will be located is under wraps until plans are more finalized.
    “I wouldn’t mind saying where they’ll be, if I knew,” says Duquette. “We have people calling us from North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon and Idaho. All those states actively seek to bring horse slaughter within their borders.”
    “We have no road blocks to put a plant in Montana,” says Parker. “We’d like a plant, but someone would have to build it before we could process horses. I don’t know that Montana is where it will happen, but it will happen somewhere in the U.S.”
    Of the intensity of interest, Duquette says he thinks there will be three horse plants open within six months.
    “Right now you’d be lucky to get 10 cents per pound for a horse at the sale barn. I would bet if we get a couple plants going in the U.S. that will jump to 50 cents right away, and get closer to 75 cents to a dollar within the first couple years,” says Duqette. “The market will be back in full bloom right away.”
    “We lack competition right now,” says Parker. “As soon as competition is created the market will get pretty snappy again, and the bottom end of the other horses will also come up.”
    Of the media storm he experienced at the outset, Duquette says, “To me, any press is good press, just because it brings awareness and starts making it a household issue. Anytime we have national press we’ve had a strong increase in support.”
    Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..