Euthanizing Equines

North Dakota could become a valuable market for horse processing, one N.D. representative said. Rep. Rod Froelich, D-31, along with Sen. Joe Miller, R-16, are co-sponsoring legislation that would have the state commerce department study the viabi...

Euthanizing Equines
If proposed legislation passes, North Dakota would be the focus of a study that would determine if it is viabie to construct a horse processing facility that could either produce horse meat for human or non-human consumption.

North Dakota could become a valuable market for horse processing, one N.D. representative said.

Rep. Rod Froelich, D-31, along with Sen. Joe Miller, R-16, are co-sponsoring legislation that would have the state commerce department study the viability of a privately-owned processing facility for horses.

"For years there have been horse processing facilities, I think the last three included two in Illinois and one in Texas," Froelich said. "Horse meat would be processed and sent out of the United States, because we don't eat a lot of horse meat in the U.S., but in the Far East countries and others they do."

Froelich said for horse meat to be shipped outside the U.S., it must be federally inspected. The USDA will no longer send meat inspectors to horse slaughter plants, causing the three remaining plants that did process horses, to close, he added.

"There happens to be now an overpouring of horses out there that there is no place for them to go," Froelich said. "It's created a real problem out here with abandoned horses."


Froelich said in some circumstances horses will be sold and trucked to foreign markets, such as Canada or Mexico.

A legislative committee unanimously OK'd a state study of a horse slaughter plant in North Dakota Friday after ranchers, horse breeders and veterinarians told of the need for a humane facility and how profitable it would be.

A veterinarian, Gerald Kitto of McClusky, testified that there are a minimum of 170,000 unwanted horses in the U.S., a problem that has gotten worse as the recession drags on. Horses are being turned loose to starve, he and several others testifying on House Bill 1496 said.

A slaughter plant will keep horses from suffering, starving and being mistreated by people who can't or don't want to keep horses they own, McClusky and most of the others told the House Agriculture Committee.

"North Dakota can be part of the solution to this problem," said Julie Ellingson of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association.

Kitto said he has never investigated so many mistreated and starving horses as he has in recent years, and showed a picture of one laying in a field.

"Someone drove away and left the horse there. He was allowed to starve to death," Kitto said.

Froelich said in circumstances where horses have surpassed their usefulness due to age, or an injury beyond repair, it becomes a problem dealing with them.


"According to law, their value is virtually nothing and no one wants him so you have two choices," Froelich said. "You can sit there and feed him the rest of his life until he dies or you can put him down, or have a vet put him down and bury him or take him to a landfill. The horse market has just fallen apart. There is still a little market, but not much."

Kitto said he is also being called more often to euthanize unwanted horses, which can cost $200 or more. That is because people aren't able to sell their horses at livestock auctions.

The committee voted for a do-pass recommendation and sent the bill to the full House for a vote, which will likely be next week.

There is a nationwide need, those testifying said. Adoption of wild animals is way down, and there are way more than what horse rescue and retirement farms can take.

Froelich said he has been contacted by a company that is willing and able to come to North Dakota to start such a plant. North Dakota has its own meat inspection laws and inspectors.

Shelia Marie, a life-long horse owner from Medora, said she is for the processing facility 100 percent.

"Because of the drought and the economy, there are going to be more unwanted horses out there now than ever," Marie said. "People have no place to go with these horses, and the horse market is down because we don't have the processing plants."

Marie said it comes down to common sense.


"The horse industry is a very big industry, not only in North Dakota, but all over the United States," Marie said. "I think it would be benficial because it is a major problem and it would create jobs. I think the surrounding states are probably having the same problem, and if we had a facility to slaughter these horses, I would think they would be glad to haul over to our state."

The production from a slaughter plant can be used to feed zoo animals, shipped out of the country to places where horse meat is eaten or for fertilizer, those testifying said.

Froelich said he understands the sensitivity of the subject.

"We're trying to come up with a solution for these unwanted horses, whether they are old, young, injured or whatever," Froelich said. "None of us like the idea of us going out and do this and this to a horse, but we have to come up with a solution. I'm just saying to the opposition 'what is your solution?' The platform is open. I don't like to destroy horses but there comes a time and a point where someone has to do something."

Froelich added if, for example, someone were to approach the state about buying horses to put into a rescue plan; that could also be a viable alternative.

According to a press release, if the study is approved it would be conducted during the 2009-2011 interim, and would assess the cost of constructing a new facility, the nature of the markets and if such a project could be accomplished under current regulations.

The study would cost approximately $100,000.

"It's going to get worse before it gets better," Marie said."


Capitol correspondent Janell Cole contributed to this story.

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