Lawyer: Missouri horse slaughter plant to open despite challenges

There is nothing preventing a northwest Missouri horse slaughter plant from opening, a lawyer for the plant's operator said Monday, despite a host of legal challenges and a question about the facility's wastewater disposal permits.

A federal judge in New Mexico last week cleared the way for equine slaughterhouses to resume operating in the U.S., dismissing a lawsuit by the Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection groups against the federal Department of Agriculture over planned plants in New Mexico and Iowa. The groups, along with the state of New Mexico, quickly filed an appeal on Friday as well as an emergency injunction request.

Rains Natural Meats, which was preparing to open the plant in Gallatin, could face yet another hurdle; a restriction by a Missouri Department of Natural Resources wastewater disposal permit issued on Oct. 29 that limits Rains to the processing of non-equine animals.

"It appears to us that the Missouri wastewater permit effectively doesn't allow Rains to process horses," said Clayton attorney Stephen Jeffery, who represents a Daviess County resident and two horse rescue groups that challenged the state's permitting process in a Jefferson City lawsuit.

But Albuquerque attorney Blair Dunn, who represents Rains along with the Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, N.M., said his client was in negotiations with the Missouri DNR and the city of Gallatin, which has provided its own discharge permit that would allow Rains to operate the plant as long as it sends its wastewater to a municipal disposal plant.

"There is nothing prohibiting the plant from beginning operations, nor the government from sending in inspectors," Dunn said Monday.

Horse slaughterhouses last operated in the U.S. in 2007 before Congress banned the practice by eliminating funding for plant inspections. Federal lawmakers restored those cuts in 2011, but the USDA has been slow in granting permits, citing the need to re-establish an oversight program.

The debate over a return to domestic horse slaughter centers on whether horses are livestock or companion animals and what is the most humane way to deal with the country's horse overpopulation, particularly in the drought-stricken West.

Supporters say it is better to slaughter unwanted horses in regulated domestic plants than to ship them to sometimes inhumane plants in Mexico.

The companies want to ship horse meat to countries where it is consumed by humans or used as animal feed.

Gallatin is about 70 miles northeast of Kansas City.