Foreign investors are considering Hardin for a horse-slaughtering plant, according an economic development official who recently toured a potential site with interested parties.
Jeff McDowell, Two Rivers Authority executive director, said investors with ties to China toured Hardin’s shuttered sugar beet plant earlier this month. The tour was arranged by Rep. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, author of a 2009 state law promoting construction of a horse slaughter facility.
“There were two things in particular they were looking at,” McDowell said. “They were considering our somewhat rural location and our relative proximity to an airport that can handle 747s.”
McDowell said the visitors were a Chinese-American businessman, his daughter and a college professor friend.
The owners of the Rocky Mountain Ethanol Project, who bought the sugar plant less than 10 years ago to open an alternative-fuel refinery, were also there, McDowell said.
Rocky Mountain Ethanol gutted the building to make room for a 55-million-gallon ethanol facility that never materialized. The brick building north of Interstate 90 is an empty shell.
Butcher said he’s being guarded about who his would-be investors are because he doesn’t want to attract the attention of animal rights groups.
“I can say that we’re looking at several locations. Hardin definitely has some really strong advantages,” Butcher said.
“The Billings Livestock Auction being one of the major horse auctions in the U.S. is one. The international airport is another.”
Butcher said the processed horse meat would be shipped to the countries in the Asian Pacific, where horse meat is considered a delicacy. The lawmaker thinks shipping the meat overseas would circumvent inspection hang-ups with U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has halted domestic horse slaughtering.
Out of business
In 2006, Congress banned the USDA from spending federal money on inspecting the country’s three horse-slaughtering plants. For lack of inspection, the companies quickly went out of business.
Horse prices quickly fell the following year as buyers, aware of the costs they faced shipping an animal out of the country for disposal, trimmed their offers by several hundred dollars.
About 100,000 horses were slaughtered in the United States annually before the ban, according to the USDA. Without slaughter facilities, cases of horse neglect and abandonment have increased, say proponents of resuming horse slaughter in the United States.
Sales prices have fallen so low it’s hard to get rid of a horse for what its worth, said Jann Parker of the Billings Livestock Commission. The animals continued to be eaten in other countries, regardless.
“The bottom line is, the people who eat horse meat have eaten horse meat for hundreds of thousands of years, and we’re not going to change their ethnic and cultural preferences,” Parker said.
Laws to circumvent USDA practices have surfaced in several states where a lack of horse processing is considered problematic. But the opponents of horse slaughtering are also ramping up their efforts.
The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, a proposed federal law, would make marketing horse flesh for human consumption punishable by up to three years in prison.
It’s endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States, which describes horse slaughter as a covert, predatory industry that brings horses to a cruel end.
Contact Tom Lutey email@example.com or 657-1288.