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Company picks ex-beef processing plant in Rockville to process horses

June 07, 2012|by Linda Russell, KY3 News | lrussell@ky3.com

ROCKVILLE, Mo. -- A company from Wyoming that wants to build a horse processing plant in Missouri said Thursday that it hopes to open an operation in this tiny town by the end of the summer.  Unified Equine has been looking for a location since vocal opposition forced it to abandon plans for a plant near Mountain Grove three months ago.

Unified Equine says it is retrofitting a closed beef processing plant on Highway B just north of Rockville, a mile east of St. Clair County. 

Congress last year lifted a five-year-old ban on funding for federal inspections of horse meat plants.  That opened the door for companies to build horse slaughtering plants in the United States.  The last horse processing plant closed in 2007.

Unified Equine says western Missouri is a good place for a plant because many horses live here and in nearby states. 

The lack of horse processing plants is blamed on a decline in the value of horses, as well as an increase in neglected and abused horses by owners who can no longer properly care for them but also can’t find anywhere to sell or dispose of them.
Many Mountain Grove residents protested when Unified Equine planned to build its plant there.  Some said they believed horses would be slaughtered inhumanely.  Others feared people would raise horses just to sell for processing.
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Edited news release from Unified Equine:

ROCKVILLE, Mo. -- A Missouri-based company is on track to re-open an existing meat processing plant here by summer's end.  Rockville is in Bates County in western Missouri, a rural area hard-hit by job losses when the plant closed almost a year ago.

The Rockville facility is currently being renovated and reequipped in order to humanely process horses.  The facility will be regulated and inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ensure all horses are humanely transported and slaughtered under federal humane slaughter regulations, which provide one of the highest standards in the world. USDA will oversee and verify the food safety of all products.

"We are excited to be bringing jobs and opportunity to rural Missouri," said chief executive officer Sue Wallis, "and even happier to provide a humane and viable option to the horse industry, decimated by misguided efforts to end humane horse slaughter."

Unified Equine Missouri will adhere to standards that go above and beyond minimum government requirements, standards developed by the International Equine Business Association.  These standards include video surveillance to ensure humane handling and a sophisticated and fail-safe market-driven testing and traceability protocol.  These systems ensure to the extent possible no stolen horse is mistakenly processed, and that all horses processed for human consumption are verified free of drug residues or other contamination.

The Rockville facility was a USDA-inspected meat processing facility for many years, and as such has the advantage of having all environmental waste water handling systems in place and was previously approved by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and other state agencies.

Unwanted or unusable horses are at particularly high risk of abandonment and neglect, or being transported thousands of miles to other countries where neither the U.S. horse industry nor USDA, has any jurisdiction over how horses are handled.  There is a thriving foreign market for horse meat which is widely used in Canada, Mexico, Europe and Asia.  A robust niche ethnic market for horse meat existed in the United States prior to 2007, and is eagerly awaiting the reopening of the equine meat industry.

"We believe this is a win-win-win for both horses and people," said Wallis.  "By ensuring every horse has value we ensure they are handled appropriately at every stage, that they are used for good purposes that contribute to the overall economy, that owners have the option of selling a horse they no longer want or need for a good price, and that as many as fifty good jobs that were lost almost a year ago are restored to a deserving rural community."

Unified Equine Missouri will provide competitive wages with benefits and the opportunity to gain shares in the company upon becoming fully vested to their employees.

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