In March when a company wanted to open a horse slaughter operation, residents of Mountain Grove, Mo., ran the people behind it out of town.
By DONALD BRADLEY
The Kansas City Star
Unified Equine Missouri is now ready to try again. This time in Rockville, Mo., less than a hundred miles south of Kansas City in Bates County, the company announced Thursday.
If the plan is successful, the Rockville facility would be the first in the country to open after Congress restored funding for inspections of horse slaughter operations last year. The company’s plan for Mountain Grove called for slaughtering 800 horses a day with the most of the meat being exported to Europe.
Sue Wallis, head of Unified Equine, said Thursday a former beef packing plant at the edge of Rockville is being renovated and the horse operation is on track to open by summer’s end and eventually supply 50 jobs.
“We are excited to be bringing jobs and opportunity to rural Missouri,” Wallis, a Wyoming state legislator, said in a news release. “And even happier to provide a humane and viable option to the horse industry, decimated by misguided efforts to end humane horse slaughter.”
Not so fast, said Cynthia McPherson, a Mountain Grove attorney who led opposition in her town and remains an active opponent of horse slaughter.
“She (Wallis) thinks it’s a done deal — it’s not,” McPherson said. “We’re going to do what we can do to stop her. But we’ll need the town’s help.”
Rockville, in eastern Bates County, has only about 150 people. That may be part of Wallis’ strategy, McPherson said. The town may be too small to put up much of a fight.
But not everyone’s against the plant.
“Any time that something creates a job around here, it’s a good thing,” said Mike Williamson, who lives about eight miles outside of town and raises horses. “We also need places to take our horses at some point.”
There was also the visceral reaction in the Rockville area that echoed the Mountain Grove attitude toward a plant that makes meals of horses.
“I just don’t like the idea of a horse packing plant,” said Karol Smith, who lives about 6 miles east of the hamlet. “It’s, just, horses. It doesn’t seem right.”
A small cattle slaughterhouse on the north edge of Rockville closed about two years ago. If Unified Equine opens up in that facility, its horse slaughter operation will sit on the west side of two-lane Highway B across the street from the Seider One Stop convenience store.
McPherson said Wallis made the Rockville announcement Thursday only because she and her allies learned about the location by filing a Freedom of Information request with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Wallis had made no secret she had been scouting the state.
“We forced her hand,” McPherson said.
In 2006, Congress cut off funding for horse slaughter inspections, essentially a backdoor way to halt a much-maligned industry. Critics and animal rights activists have contended that horses are not meant to be eaten.
But since then, horse slaughter proponents have argued that because of the closing of “killer plants,” old, sick horses were dying from neglect and abandonment because owners had no where to take them.
Some had even been dumped in the wild horse herds in southeast Missouri.
In the wake of intense lobbying, Congress restored the funding last year. Several plans for new plants have surfaced, but none have progressed much beyond talk.
Wallis wants to be first. Her Mountain Grove plan included a partnership with Chevideco, a Belgium company and one of the biggest importers of horse meat in the world.
The company’s website touts horse meat as lean, nutritious and delicious.
In March, Wallis and other backers told the people of Mountain Grove the plant would meet all environmental requirements, provide jobs and the horses would be treated humanely.
The town didn’t care.
At a crowded town meeting when a banker involved in the project tried to warm up to the crowd with a story how his grandpa was a circuit-riding preacher on a horse, a woman yelled, “Aw, you go to hell.”
“Go back to Belgium!” someone else shouted.
It didn’t get any better. Wallis and Chevideco soon pulled out.
Wallis did not return phone calls to The Star Thursday.
In her Thursday press release, she touts the Rockville operation much as she did in Mountain Grove. She said the plan was to transport and slaughter horses humanely and under federal regulations.
According to Unified Equine, Canada, Mexico, Europe and Asia all have increasing markets for horse meat. Also, a “robust, niche ethnic” market exists in the in the U.S.
“We believe this is a win-win-win for both horses and people,” Wallis said. “By ensuring every horse has value we ensure they are handled appropriately at every stage, that they are used for good purposes that contribute to the overall economy, that owners have the option of selling a horse they no longer want or need for a good price, and that as many as fifty good jobs that were lost almost a year ago are restored to a deserving rural community.”
McPherson, too, recycled her Mountain Grove objections.
Jobs would not go to locals, she predicts, but to Hispanic workers who would be brought in.
“And they’re not going to want to live in Rockville,” McPherson said. “They’re going to live in El Dorado Springs and Appleton City.”
Also, the horse slaughter industry has a terrible environmental track record, she says. A Chevideco plant in Kaufman, Texas closed after horse blood got into the town’s sewer system.
Some blood backed up in people’s toilets.
The Star’s Scott Canon contributed to this story.To reach Donald Bradley, call 816-234-4182 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.