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Dale Wetzel, Published March 06 2009

Backers: Slaughter plant could benefit colleges

BISMARCK – If it is built, a North Dakota horse slaughter plant could also benefit equine management and studies programs at Dickinson State University and North Dakota State University, supporters of the proposal say.

Meanwhile, critics of a proposed $50,000 study of the feasibility of building a slaughter plant told the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday the proposal was a waste of money.

“I don’t believe I should have to pay my tax dollars for a slaughterhouse, so people can unload their horses,” said Karen Thunshelle, a Minot horse owner. “It doesn’t seem to be a problem for all horse owners.”

Ranchers say the number of abandoned horses has risen since the nation’s last horse slaughter plants were closed in 2007.

Federal appeals courts upheld state laws that banned the sale of horse meat for human consumption, and blocked the U.S. Agriculture Department from charging fees to provide horse meat inspections.

Rep. Rod Froelich, D-Selfridge, the sponsor of a bill to study a North Dakota horse processing initiative, said a plant in the state would help horsemen find a humane way to recover value from horses that are old, ill or not suited to be around people.

Froelich presented records of two recent sales from auction markets, one of which showed 30 horses offered for sale that received no bids. When sale barn officials called the horses’ owners later, they were told the owners didn’t want the horses returned, Froelich said.

“That not only happens here in North Dakota, it happens across the nation,” Froelich said. “We are trying to promote a solution.”

The measure provides $50,000 to the state’s Agricultural Products Utilization Commission for a study of whether to build a new horse slaughtering plant, or convert an existing building into a processing plant.

The study would also explore markets for horse meat, and review federal laws and regulations that govern horse meat production.

Supporters of the legislation have prepared changes, which will be presented to the full Senate, that would charge a $10 fee for each horse killed. The money would be used to pay back the study’s cost.

Once the money was reimbursed, the fee would be divided among Dickinson State University’s equine management program, North Dakota State University’s equine studies program, and private and public research projects, including “horse therapy” for people with disabilities, the amendments say.

Lawmakers in at least 10 states, including North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, have approved or are considering resolutions that ask Congress to support states’ rights to regulate horse transport and slaughter and, in some cases, financial incentives for processing plants.

In Montana, the state House has approved legislation intended to encourage construction of a horse slaughter plant. The measure gets its first Senate hearing next week.

A South Dakota bill, intended to provide $10,000 for a feasibility study of a horse processing plant, died in the Senate last month.

Congress is considering legislation, introduced in January by U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., to make it a federal crime to slaughter horses for human consumption or to transport them to a slaughterhouse.

The U.S. House approved a similar bill two years ago; Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., voted against it. It never got a Senate vote.

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