MOUNTAIN GROVE, Mo. -- The Wright County Livestock Auction was packed Monday afternoon as Sue Wallis, chief executive officer of Unified Equine, held an informational meeting about the equine processing plant proposed for the area. It's been the talk of the town for weeks, a proposed horse slaughter plant that could process up to 200 horses a day in a single shift.
Unified Equine says it chose southwest Missouri because of its access to good highways and access to horses.
"If you draw a 400- or 500-mile circle around southwest Missouri, you encapsulate more than 30 percent of the horses that are in the U.S," said Wallis.
"We always need jobs. There's a lot of people not working around here. Plus, hopefully it'll bring the price of horses back up," said Jeff Walkowe of Dunn.
"It's just a love of our life, and it's something we've always done together as a family, and we are definitely opposed to the horse slaughter plant," said Michelle Collins of Norwood.
Collins was among the protesters lining the road outside Monday's meeting.
Not all horse owners agree, and Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers were present to ensure nothing got out of hand. Video cameras were not allowed inside, but the auction barn overflowed with those wanting to hear more.
"The horse industry could be once again a vibrant sector of animal agriculture," said Wallis.
Wallis announced the building being considered near Mountain Grove is no longer Unified Equine's target, but the company is still searching for another site.
"Might be really close to Mountain Grove, might be a ways away, but it will be somewhere in southwest Missouri," she said.
Protestors believe the plant would be bad for their companions and community.
"I hauled out of packing houses for 31 years, chicken, beef, and everything. There's nothing stinks like a horse slaughterhouse," said Bruce Long of Mountain Grove.
"History is the best predictor of the future, and we have Kaufman, Texas; you have the Illinois slaughter plants and other slaughter plants outside the U.S. that have not had such a good record," said Collins.
Supporters see economic opportunity and improved horse welfare.
"I implore them to give heed to the thought that these horses are suffering a painful death of starvation," said Mindy Patterson of the Missouri Equine Council.
Patterson says there are 300,000 or 400,000 unwanted horses nationwide.
"This is a traditional business that has been in this country. We missed it for four years and, for the last four years, the horse industry went down over 70 percent," Wallis said.
Regardless of debate, Unified Equine is planning to make its home in southwest Missouri.
"Discussion's over. Make all the noise you want. We're going into business," Wallis said.
Wallis says Unified Equine will complete its feasibility study in the next month and a half, and hopes to have a plant open somewhere in southwest Missouri by September.