A state legislator says the country needs a horse slaughterhouse and Montana would be a good place for one.
Republican Rep. Ed Butcher's bill declares the state open for that type of business, and attempts to reassure potential investors perhaps skittish following recent closure of the country's last equine slaughterhouse. Cavel International Inc., shut down its DeKalb, Ill., operation after the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2007 upheld an Illinois law prohibiting slaughter of horses for human consumption.
The country needs a slaughterhouse as cases of horse abandonment and cruelty escalate amid economic upheaval that has some owners of the animals unable to care for them, unable to find new homes for horses and looking for ways to dispose of them humanely and affordably, said Butcher, a horse owner from the central Montana farm community of Winifred.
"Horses are being kicked out on the roads, left on the land," he said Feb. 10 in a telephone interview.
A bill being considered in North Dakota would designate money to study the possible opening of a horse slaughterhouse in that state; and, in Wyoming, the House gave preliminary approval to a measure requesting Congress not interfere with shipment and slaughter of unwanted horses. A bill pending in Congress would prohibit transporting across U.S. borders, horses that would be killed for meat, effectively removing Canada and Mexico as slaughter destinations.
Butcher's House Bill 418, scheduled for a hearing Feb. 12 before the House Agriculture Committee, attempts to limit what a state court could do to stop or delay construction of a horse slaughterhouse.
Selling horses for slaughter was an option when the country had facilities to take them, Butcher said, but now people are left with the cost of euthanasia plus disposal fees that can run into hundreds of dollars--if they don't decide to abandon the animals.
Horse slaughter "would be an incredible industry for Montana," generating jobs not just in the killings but in areas such as preparation of meat for sale in Europe and packaging of dog food, he said.
The Humane Society of the United States finds Butcher's proposal bad for Montana as well as for horses.
A slaughterhouse killing what are not generally regarded as food animals presents a difficult image problem, said Nancy Perry, the organization's vice president for government affairs. And claims of humane treatment don't stand up, Perry said from Washington, D.C.
"Horses are particularly ill-suited for being put through a process like this," she said.
They commonly fight and become injured during long transport to slaughterhouses, Perry said. Once they arrive, she said, the turmoil continues because horses "react to the fight-or-flight response. They will try to escape a kill box" and the procedure for killing them can be disrupted.
Butcher said slaughtering domestically makes more sense than sending U.S. horses to Canada or Mexico, and the work can be done swiftly, without pain to the animal.
"It's boom!" he said. "The horse is deceased."
While "activists all warm and fuzzy" may oppose using a horse for meat, people who find slaughter a practical alternative should have the option, Butcher said.
"Not every horse is (Roy Rogers' horse) Trigger," he said. "There's a lot of these horses whose working days are done."