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Horse Slaughter Opponents Say Meat Isn't Safe to Eat

Disagreement of horse medication and implications in horses-as-meat industry.
(GALLATIN, Mo.)  A U.S. District Court judge in St. Louis will decide if a meat processor in Gallatin can begin slaughtering horses.

Currently, 175,000 horses are shipped each year to Mexico and Canada for slaughter with the meat then sent to Europe and Japan.

Until the court makes its decision on the future of the horse-as-meat industry, the small business owner is patiently waiting.

Getting into the horse slaughter business was not necessarily in the plans for David Rains.

"We're horse people," Rains said. "We have 10 horses of our own we use for riding and catching cows and gathering cows."

But after Rains Natural Meats closed last year because of tough economic times, the horsemeat processing business became a possible solution. Rains says in addition to there being a market for horsemeat around the world, there's a severe problem with horse overpopulation.

"There are horses that are mean. There are horses that are past their prime that people can no longer afford to take care of," Rains said.

Rains has retrofitted his small meat operation, that had previously processed everything from cattle to hogs to even elk, deer and bison, to handle only horses. Rains is waiting on the results of a court challenge by the Humane Society of the United States that is blocking him from starting up.

"I don't want to put anybody out of business," said Amanda Good, a spokesperson with The Humane Society of the United States. "That's not my goal. Horse slaughter is completely different from any other animal that's sent to slaughter. It's just not safe for human consumption."

One of the big issues for advocates against animal slaughter is the drug Phenylbutazone.

"It is a very common drug given to horses," Good said. "It's a pain reliever. To send these animals to slaughter that have received this drug is a great danger to humans These drugs are known as cancer-causing agents."

But those who support horses-as-meat say that's not an issue.

"Our customers are going to be reassured that there will never be a horse that walks through that plant that has any trace of drug residue in them," said Sue Wallis, the U.S. chair of The International Equine Business Association. "They will be required to do a lot more testing in horse plants than they do in any other kind of meat plant."

The chemical issue aside, horse slaughtering is emotional for those trying to prevent it.

"There are three possible plants that could get started and I don't want one of them to be in Missouri," Good said. "I've lived here my entire life and this is just not what I want this to be known for here."

The Humane Society of the U.S. says in addition to there being problems with dangerous chemicals in the meat, they are worried about the remains of horse carcasses and waste runoff. In Part Three of our four part series on the horse slaughter industry, we will look more closely at a drainage lagoon some say could poison the entire area if horse slaughtering were allowed.

Part 4 of the series will give an exclusive look at the kill floor of the Rains Meat plant where horses will be slaughtered and processed.
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