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National Debate on Horse Meat Hits Northwest Missouri

Government regulations are loosening regarding the horse slaughter industry. Having been banned since 2007, it might be making a comeback.
(GALLATIN, Mo.)  David Rains is a simple man trying to run a small business. But for now, he's at a standstill.

"A lot of things kind of combined together," Rains said. It made it tough for us to compete."

Rains is referring to being a small meat processor going up against mega-giant corporations. Along with the always dicey economics of agribusiness, Rains was forced out of business. But now there's hope, with an offer of going into the horse slaughter business.

"We've done beef, pork, sheep, goats, elk, deer, bison," said Rains, listing off the other meat he's processed in his plant. "So horse would be just another page in the story.The carcasses of all animals are very similar. They basically have similar muscle groups and similar skeletons."

SEE RELATED: Horse Slaughterhouse Proposed for Northwest Missouri

Horse slaughter brings up a lot of emotion. But little did Rains know of the politics he was getting into.

"Horses are not raised for public consumption, said Amanda Good, with the Kansas City office of the Humane Society of the United States. "They are not raised for food at all. They've been pets to us here in the United States. They always have been. They've played such an integral part in the formation of the United States."

However, some in the equine business disagree.

"Around the world, it's used and treasured by more than 3/4 of the world's cultures and around the world and it tends to be quite a bit less expensive than beef," said Sue Wallis, the U.S. chair of the International Equine Business Association. "They are low in fat, high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Meat quality-wise, for health-conscious people it's one of the finest up there with elk and deer."

So while the shelves are bare and the coolers empty at Rains Meats for now, David Rains hopes he can soon be back in business.

"We just want to generate some income and try to create some jobs for the area."

Rains says there is an extreme horse overpopulation problem in the U.S. Currently, the U.S. ships 175,000 horses each year to Canada and Mexico for slaughter and processing.

Waiting on the Courts

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 horse meat processing business became a possible solution. Rains says in addition to there being a market for horse meat 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.

SEE RELATED: Horse Slaughter Debate in the Courts

"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.

SEE PART 3: Some Voice Environmental Concerns of Horse Slaughter Operation

SEE PART 4: The Emotions and Politics of the Horse Debate
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