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Horses for meat

Jun 13, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

Reasonable people make the case for a plant in Wyoming, but the barriers are many

Once upon a time in American history, eating horsemeat wasn't a controversial idea. When our nation was more agrarian than it is now, if a horse died, it was relatively commonplace for the farm or ranch family to take the meat if it was feasible to do so.

Now we are removed a couple of generations from those days, and as talk is stirred about possibly siting a horse slaughterhouse in or around Riverton, the notion of horses as food animals catches most people off guard. It just hasn't occurred to them. Others are appalled by the idea.

Even acknowledging the truth that eating horses wasn't a shocking practice in times gone by, there never was a large-scale, commercialized horsemeat industry in the United States remotely on the level of the commercial cattle or poultry industry.

There are those, however, who can make an entirely plausible argument that a horse slaughterhouse makes sense. Federal law has been changed to the point that a horsemeat operation is permissible. Horsemeat may be too long removed from the American palate to ever make much of a comeback here, but there is a tried and tested market for it overseas. There is little doubt that money could be made.

Beyond that are the considered opinions of some smart people who say there are too many horses in this country. One well-known Riverton man remarked recently -- with witnesses present -- that he would invest $100,000 in a horse slaughterhouse if he got the chance. (Maybe we'll get him to go on the record one of these days.)

These feelings may not be widespread, but they do exist in the minds of people who can speak knowledgeably about the issue. To them, disposing of a horse in a regulated, sanitary, commercially viable way has its place in our country, which already accepts the raising and killing of animals for food, along with the stalking and hunting of them in the wild, as mainstream practice.

Having said all that, it remains undeniable that the idea of raising horses for meat, or simply slaughtering a horse for meat in its old age, is an uncomfortable thought to many Americans -- probably most. And it would be hard to overcome.

There is a celebrated magnificence about horses that is powerful and widely embraced. Horses are what the movie stars ride when they herd cattle. Horses are ridden into battle. The Kentucky Derby isn't for gelded herefords. The Oscar-nominated Steven Spielberg movie was titled "War Horse," not "War Heifer."

We love horses in this country. Many who own horses view them as pets more than livestock. And that ensures that emotion will be a major ingredient in the discussion of State Rep. Sue Wallis's proposal to build a commercial horse processing facility in Riverton or anywhere else in Wyoming.

Emotion isn't the best thing on which to base a business decision, but it happens all the time. Many a commercial enterprise has been proposed that fails because of anger, fear or sentimentality. And in the political arena, emotion all but rules the game these days.

We may well avoid having to confront this issue at all. It is a long shot that the Wallis plan will get very far. She has faced resistance in other states, and initial statements about the plan noted that it would not go forward until and unless the sites outside Wyoming were up and running.

If the unlikely day ever does come when this idea is brought before our citizens in concrete, quantifiable terms -- in other words, in a businesslike way -- then we suggest that we at least attempt to evaluate on the same platform. Then, even if we decide to reject it, we will have done so based on the full gamut of our human capabilities rather than just part of it.

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