The horse business experienced a dramatic decline when the last processing plant in the U.S. closed. Since the closure, horses have been abandoned, neglected, shipped out of the country, and overall, devalued. Something had to change to improve the lot of the horse and the horse business.
The Government accountability office study (GAO), which was completed in 2011, clearly demonstrated the need for domestic equine processing. When the Ag appropriations bill was signed by the President in early 2012, it carried no language denying funding for United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors in equine processing plants. This crucial development made it possible to open processing plants on U.S. soil once again.
With the grit and determination that spurred the GAO study, the same people stepped up to the plate to put words into action, and developed United Equine, LLC, to finance and develop equine processing plants and a procurement and product marketing company. United Equine has partnered with international and U.S. based companies with domestic and worldwide markets for horse meat.
The demand for ethnic, specialty, and gourmet meat derived from horses is large in the U.S., besides having a huge global market. The U.S. has citizens from many cultures, with growing ethnic communities coast to coast that welcome the re-introduction of horse meat. The export market has always been strong, so the market is certainly there for safe, regulated processing of horses.
A facility is currently being developed in western Missouri, with other locations on the drawing board. Each of the plants will operate as a "humanely certified" processing facility. The Missouri plant had previously been a USDA inspected processing facility, so the waste handling facilities and holding facilities are already in place, only needing modification to accommodate horse processing.
The Missouri plant will be a complete kill and fabrication plant which will be capable of processing up to 200 head per day in a single shift. Two shifts would process 400 per day when the plant is in full operation.
With initial hiring of 40-55 employees, with expansion to 100 or more possible, the plant will offer competitive salaries with full benefits, and will primarily employ and train local workers. Employees will undergo a thorough pre-employment background check and full training before they work in the plant. The high jobless rate in the area of the plant makes it a positive addition to the region's economy through the hiring of workers.
The plant will be designed with input from Grandin Livestock Systems, a leader in the design of animal handling systems at meat processing plants, as well as Jennifer Woods, Livestock Handling of Alberta, Canada.
Wood's Livestock Handling company has implemented handling standards and audits in Canadian equine processing facilities and will be involved with the design and management of the Missouri plant, as well as employee and auditor training and video surveillance.
The design of the Missouri plant will help to reduce fear and stress for the animals in the facility, and allow the use of a humane designation in marketing programs. The plant will comply with all local, state and federal regulations and will be environmentally managed to produce no negative impacts to the community.
All horses being transported for processing will be hauled under the USDA's Humane Transport of Horses to Slaughter Act regulations, and will be regulated throughout processing by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. The U.S. has the highest standards for humane handling in the world, with the law requiring that all animals be handled with a minimum of stress and that they be humanely killed.
USDA FSIS inspectors are required to be present for both before and after inspections of each animal killed, ensuring the health and safety of the carcass throughout the process.
Unified Equine LLC will be utilizing the Recommended Handling Guidelines and Animal Welfare Assessment Tool for Horses, which will provide progressive, comprehensive and consistent animal welfare standards for handling horses at processing. The system will provide third party audits, as well as video surveillance throughout the facility, just as is done in leading Canadian horse meat processing facilities.
Horse processing in the U.S. will resume being the secondary use for horses that are unwanted and unusable for other purposes, just as it was prior to the cessation of horse processing. Horses being raised specifically for the slaughter market is unlikely due to the high cost of production and the relatively low salvage value, as compared to other livestock.
The Missouri plant will undergo feasibility and market analysis studies, which are scheduled to be completed in May. Following that, business development, construction and implementation will take several more months. A specific date for being "open for business" is not possible, but, United Equine, LLC, hopes to be in business by the end of the summer of 2012.
The plight of the unwanted horse in the U.S. is nearing the end. The horse business and horse market are poised to make a gradual rebound as the excess horses are taken out of the equation. Horses will once again be a blessing and not a burden to horse owners throughout the nation.