CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A group of potential investors in a Fremont County horse-slaughtering plant are watching the national political scene to see whether such projects can get started in other states.
Valley Meat Co. — a proposed slaughterhouse in Roswell, N.M. — is slated to open in late April.
According to published reports, the plant is expected to receive approval despite strong opposition from various advocacy groups, including the Humane Society of the U.S., and efforts to block it in Congress.
Four members of Congress recently introduced federal legislation to ban the slaughter of American horses and to prohibit shipping horses out of the country for slaughter.
The attorney for the owner of the Valley Meat Co. in Roswell is A. Blair Dunn. The plant's plans are still on track, Dunn wrote Thursday in an email to the Star-Tribune.
If the Roswell plant opens, it will be the first operation to slaughter horses in the United States since 2007.
Federal legislation that year prohibited the U.S. Department of Agriculture from spending its budget on the inspection of horse meat. Since horse slaughterhouses can't operate without USDA inspections, the law effectively banned the plants.
The 2007 prohibition against inspections was removed from the law in 2011.
Since then, several companies, including Valley Meat Co., have applied to the USDA to resume inspections of horses for slaughter.
In Wyoming, and particularly in Fremont County, there is considerable interest in establishing a horse-slaughtering plant, said Keja Whiteman, a Fremont County commissioner.
"Nothing is set in stone but there definitely is interest for a multitude of reasons," Whiteman said last week.
In addition to being centrally located, the county has a significant population of feral, as opposed to wild, horses.
"People are turning out their domestic horses out on tribal land and federal land in Fremont County," Whiteman said. "And, frankly, horses are starving to death and the ones that aren't are multiplying, and neither is good."
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Asked if people are turning out their horses to fend for themselves because they can't afford to feed them, Whitman said it's hard to say because no one is coming forward to say the horses are theirs.
"We also have a large, untapped labor pool with the reservation. I think the reservation would be an ideal location," she said, referring to the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Plans are on hold for now, she added.
"Everybody is hesitant to invest money when there are still different political things going on at the federal level that may be attempting to block these plants that are close to functioning," she said.
State Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, is a rancher who has been active in promoting a horse-slaughtering facility in the state.
She said her group of investors first looked at a horse-handling facility at the old Livestock Board stockyard in Cheyenne. The facility had the potential of being a gathering point to provide livestock to plants located outside of Cheyenne.
"That turned out to be encumbered by a lease situation with the railroad that could not be resolved," Wallis wrote in an email to the Star-Tribune.
The next prospect was a plant in conjunction with a bio-gen power plant being planned outside of Guernsey.
That plan went on the back burner when the group was unable to leverage a provision in the 2008 farm bill to allow Wyoming state meat inspectors to inspect horse meat.
Wallis and other supporters then began to focus completely on Congress to get the law changed.
With the help of a Government Accounting Office report that showed that preventing the USDA from inspecting horse plants was causing harm, Wallis and her group were able to get Congress to remove the 2007 riders, or amendments, that defunded horse meat inspections.
She suggested the USDA has been dragging its feet in resuming the horse meat inspections.