Horse slaughter plants may once again legally operate in the U.S. and Dave Duquette of Hermiston is one who expects to profit.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is authorized to inspect horse meat for human consumption for the first time since 2006, which allows for horse slaughter plants to reopen.
The ban was lifted Nov. 18 when President Barack Obama signed a spending bill lifting riders from the agricultural department’s appropriations bill. The last U.S. horse processing facility was closed when Illinois outlawed horse slaughter in 2007.
Duquette, president of the non-profit, pro-horse slaughter group United Horsemen and owner of Duquette Quarter Horses, is heading up an effort to get an American-owned slaughter plant up and running.
“It’s to better the industry,” Duquette said. “As of January, abuse and neglect cases have increased by 1,400 percent.”
Part of the increase in abuse, neglect and abandonment cases are attributed to the elimination of horse processing facilities and the economic downturn occurring within a few months of each other, said Dawn Sherwood, Oregon State University assistant professor of equine science.
“I don’t think one happened because of the other, but in a way it was a coincidence that everything happened at the same time,” Sherwood said.
One previously staunch opponent of horse slaughter that has modified its opinion is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The organization discovered that once U.S. processing plants closed down, horse owners were not euthanizing horses. Instead, horses were sold and subsequently shipped to Canada or Mexico for slaughter, said Lindsay Rajt, PETA campaigns director. Meat from slaughtered horses is primarily consumed in Europe and Asia.
“In light of that and how the journey takes days to ship them … we see slaughter in the U.S. as the lesser of the two evils,” Rajt said. “We don’t want to see any slaughter at all, but if it will save horses a long trip, it will be better.”
Duquette said that decreased cattle numbers in the U.S. mean some shuttered processing plants could be purchased for as little as five cents on the dollar and started up again for horse slaughter. He also has investors lined up to help finance start-up costs for a plant.
U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows cattle numbers have been on a steady decline since 2006 and have dropped one percent since July 2010.
“We have a lot of places where this could happen,” Duquette said. “The next step is to find a plant and get it going.”
Potential sites include North Dakota, North Carolina, Wyoming and a site on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. But, even with efforts to reinstate processing facilities, Sherwood predicts nothing is going to be established for at least another two years.
Only four states prohibit horse slaughter: California, Florida, Texas and Illinois, Duquette said.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.