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Janell Cole, Published February 07 2009

North Dakota committee approves horse slaughter plant study

Supporters say need for horse facility growing

BISMARCK – A legislative committee unanimously approved a state study of a horse slaughter plant in North Dakota on 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, he 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. He is also being called a lot 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 horse retirement farms can take.

The three remaining horse processing plants that had been operating most recently, in Illinois and Texas, are now closed, they said, because the U.S. Department of Agriculture will no longer send meat inspectors to horse slaughter plants.

Rep. Rod Froelich, D-Selfridge, prime sponsor of the bill, 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.

The bill calls for the state Department of Commerce to study the feasibility of starting a plant.

Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net