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January 02, 2014

Horse Slaughter In the U.S.: The Dumbest Business Idea Since New Coke

Tomorrow, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King will be back in court seeking to block the opening of a horse slaughter plant in his state because of unresolved questions about waste disposal and unsafe chemicals in the meat. We hope he prevails. Attorney General King—joined by The HSUS and Front Range Equine Rescue—made similar arguments in the federal courts, which have produced a series of red and green lights for horse slaughter plant proponents over the last five months. Both King, as the state’s top law enforcement official, and the state’s Republican governor, Susanna Martinez, oppose the opening of a horse slaughter plant, so the state has hardly rolled out the welcome mat for the would-be horse butcherers and traders.

Horse transport to slaughter
Kathy Milani/The HSUS

Taking a step back from the legal wrangles in the state and federal courts, I am amazed that the people behind horse slaughter continue to proceed with their thoroughly unpopular gambit, given the impossibly difficult regulatory and social environment they find themselves in. The only explanation for their perseverance must be that they have some financiers willing to bear the costs in their attempt to march healthy horses onto slaughterhouse floors. There’s just no way to view horse slaughtering as a viable business in the current environment, and its future, from a strictly economic perspective, is bleak as bleak can be.  
 
You don’t find too many people seeking to open up whale processing facilities, or cockfighting arenas, on American soil, because any sane investor knows it’s a fool’s errand. There are just too many practical obstacles—legal, political, and social—in the way, even if the proponents had unfailing enthusiasm about the idea of killing whales or fighting roosters. The enterprise depends not only on the enthusiasm of the handful of boosters, but on society’s broader acceptance of the enterprise.
 
First, as the operators of proposed slaughter plants in Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico have learned, there is major local opposition to their enterprises. They will have to contend with a battery of regulatory challenges, protests, and public criticism if they wish to operate.
 
Second, Congress is likely to shut the door on the industry, at least for the coming year. Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have language in their 2014 spending bills that forbids USDA from spending any money to inspect the plants, and that means the plants won’t be able to operate. Now that a budget agreement has been reached, Congress is expected to act on that legislation by January 15th. All along, this prospect has been looming, and it defies easy explanation that these slaughter plant operators would go to the expense of setting up plants and hiring staff even as Congress acts to put a stop to it all.
 
Third, there is a highly uncertain market for their product. While there’s never been any demand in the U.S. for horse meat, the industry has relied on markets overseas, principally in Europe. But demand there has been in decline, and according to Animal People, per capita consumption is more than a pound per year in just four of 28 EU nations. Since the scandal that saw horsemeat mislabeled and sold as beef in several countries, per capita consumption rates has declined further still, due to concerns about food safety and the changing tastes of consumers.

Some big money player is probably backing the horse slaughter plants, and allowing them to make totally irrational business decisions. But it’s an economic dead end. One way or another, Americans won’t let these plants operate, just like we wouldn’t allow dog and cat slaughter plants, whale processing, or cockfighting arenas to operate. We have a great entrepreneurial spirit in America, but we also have core values. Horse slaughter just doesn’t make the cut as a legitimate business in our great country.

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