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The Emotions and Politics of the Horse Slaughter Debate

When business at a small beef and pork processing plant in Gallatin turned bad, the owner thought he had an answer: turn the operation over to a horse meat plant. It hasn't turned out so simple.
The final segment of our 4 part series looks at some of the emotions and politics of horse slaughter.

Parts 1 and 2: National Debate on Horse Meat Hits Northwest Missouri
Part 3: Some Voice Environmental Concerns of Horse Slaughter Operation

(GALLATIN, Mo.) As Rains Natural Meats continues to fight a court battle over its efforts to open up a horse slaughterhouse, emotions are running high.

"According to the U.S. government and the State of Missouri, horses are considered livestock," said David Rains, co-owner of the plant. "This is animal processing facility that's gotten caught up in politics."

Those against horse slaughter are equally passionate.

"Horses in the United States have never been raised for food," said Amanda Good, from the Humane Society of the United States. "They've always been pets or companion animals to us, or even work animals."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is loosening regulations against horse slaughter, which has been banned since 2007. Some in the horse industry want to re-start the humane killing of horses for meat. They say this will help alleviate what they say is a massive horse overpopulation problem.

"There's no such thing as humane horse slaughter which I think a lot of our opponents saying this is the only humane option," Good said.

If Rains Meats starts processing horses, the animals will slowly walk down a narrow chute into what is called a "knock box." After the door is closed behind them, they'll be shot in the head by a slug fired from a 410 shotgun.

"When they sense danger or fear, their instinct is to flee the situation," Good said. "When you put a horse like that into a trailer for transport or into an enclosed space like a slaughterhouse, it becomes extremely dangerous."

Horse meat is prized in many parts of the world. Rains says much of his processed horse meat would end up going to Europe and Japan. He says he feels like a political football.

"We are low hanging fruit in the horse industry. But they are going after everybody one piece at a time," Rains said. "We're just everyday people just trying to get by. It's absolutely crazy that it can come to this over just processing some meat."

Rains Natural Meats remains closed while the court debates some of the environmental impacts of the horse meat plant. A decision is expected early next month.

Meanwhile, David Rains is driving a school bus to keep some kind of income coming in.
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