Montana approval of horse-processing plants may signal trend

Montana approval of horse-processing plants may signal trend

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Jul 01, 2009

National Report — The nation's last three horse-slaughter plants have been shuttered since 2007, but new ones may start to open around the country in coming months, based on a current legislative trend.

Montana is now the first state to allow horse-processing plants to be built within its borders, and a handful of other states seem to be considering that option as a way to deal with rising numbers of unwanted and neglected horses in the declining economy.

The trend is happening even as the U.S. Congress continues to debate legislation that would prevent the sale, transport and slaughter of horses for human consumption.

The law permitting investor-owned equine processing facilities in Montana went into effect May 4 without the signature of Gov. Brian Schweitzer, whose efforts to have parts of the bill amended were rebuffed in the Legislature. Bills that pass and are not vetoed within 10 days automatically become law in Montana.

Those provisions are aimed at the type of state court challenges that forced the 2007 closures of the nation's last horse-slaughter facilities, one in Illinois and two in Texas.

Meanwhile, a North Dakota measure authorizing $75,000 for a study to determine whether a horse-processing facility would be economically viable in that state goes into effect this month, and South Dakota is debating a similar feasibility study.

Such measures have plenty of opposition. An Illinois legislator's attempt to have that state's ban on horse slaughter overturned failed to win enough votes in the state House.

In Tennessee, legislation that would allow private development of processing facilities and limit legal challenges was approved by the House Agriculture Committee and sent to the Senate Commerce Committee, but the panel adjourned before considering it. Its sponsor, Rep. Frank Niceley, says it will be taken up again in January 2010.

The federal legislation to ban horse sales, transport and slaughter for human consumption (H.B. 503 and S. 311) remains in committee, but several state legislatures have passed resolutions urging rejection of the legislation or instructing their delegations to vote against it.

Such resolutions recently passed in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, but failed in Georgia, Idaho and Minnesota. Resolutions are still under consideration in Tennessee and Arizona.

While the federal legislation and the states moving to allow slaughter facilities seem to be at odds, the sticking point could be the phrase "for human consumption." The former slaughter plants exported horse meat outside the country for that purpose.

The federal legislation doesn't address horse slaughter for other purposes, so the question for states considering new plants might be whether they can make money processing animals for purposes other than for human consumption.