Numbers Won’t Work in Proposed Slaughter Plant

John Holland

by John Holland, co-founder and president, Equine Welfare Alliance 

"Even if Wallis could convince Wyoming’s tiny population to gorge themselves on the [horse] meat, there is yet another problem. The meat is not safe." 

CHICAGO (EWA) – Newsweek recently carried the condensed version of an article by Sue Wallis, a Wyoming State representative, titled Wyoming proceeds with plans to build state-of-the-art processing plant. The article gives the impression that Wyoming is about to open a horse slaughter plant. It is not and here is why.

The "plans" are not those of the state of Wyoming, but of horse slaughter proponent Sue Wallis. The Wallis business strategy appears to be "If you hype it, they will come."

In the article Wallis claims that this plant will go into operation in just six months and will slaughter all the excess wild and domestic horses in the comfort and serenity of a Temple Grandin designed facility of the highest standard. One can almost hear the Muzak playing as the grateful horses line up to be "euthanized" by gentle and caring workers.

Yet buried in the artfully understated text is the admission that Wallis does not have investors, a business plan or even a cost estimate. Over the past year, Wallis sold just over $30,000 worth of raffle tickets for a Dodge 4—4 truck, only to announce on August 27th that she had not sold enough tickets to actually buy the truck and asking if she might just keep the money as a donation. Apparently that potentially lucrative business gambit was not well received.

Most recently Wallis has indicated ticket sales have, not unpredictably, stagnated since her announcement that there might not be a prize, but that she intends to announce the winner anyhow at her "Summit of the Horse", a planned seminar in January composed entirely of pro-horse slaughter speakers and lobbyists. She did not indicate whether the announcement would be accompanied by an actual truck. Other than these ventures and a stint as a cowgirl poet, Wallis has little business experience. So here is some advice.

To get started on the cost estimates for her dream horse slaughter plant, Wallis might wish to consider the case of the Natural Valley Farms (NVF) horse slaughter plant that went bankrupt two years ago in Saskatchewan, Canada. According to Henry Skjerven, a plant director, they had gone through $42 Million dollars.

It had not been enough money, said Skjerven, for them to build a waste treatment facility, which explains why they were caught dumping tens of thousands of gallons of blood into a local river and into a lagoon behind the facility. The Cavel plant in Illinois and the Dallas Crown plant in Texas were continually fined for similar pollution problems. So Sue might want to add $10 million or so for that and other nice-to-have amenities.

"Even if Wallis could convince Wyoming’s tiny population to gorge themselves on the meat, there is yet another problem. The meat is not safe"

There is another pesky little item Wallis lacks (and NVF had), and that is a market. As admitted in the article, Congress removed the funding for required USDA inspectors in 2007, making it illegal for such a plant to export the meat across state lines for human consumption. So Wallis proposes to sell the meat intrastate (inside Wyoming) for human consumption and to pet food manufacturers.

The population of Wyoming is approximately 544,270. That is about 3% the size of New York City. And since Americans don’t eat horse meat, Wallis proposed a law to force it on prisoners and school children. With that idea rejected, the only remaining customers would probably be the Wallis family which, though large, is likely insufficient to consume the estimated 10 million pounds of horse meat the plant would need to produce every year to make a profit.

Even if Wallis could convince Wyoming’s tiny population to gorge themselves on the meat, there is yet another problem. The meat is not safe. American horses are given dangerous drugs that are forbidden in animals intended for human consumption. The EU is currently in the process of cracking down on the lack of documentation for American horses.

Perhaps the most common of all horse medications is phenylbutazone (bute). In humans this drug is a known carcinogen, and causes liver failure, aplastic anemia (bone marrow suppression) and other lethal blood disorders. Bute is banned for use in all food animals.

Wallis may have anticipated federal meddling when she introduced House Bill 54, the "Wyoming Food Freedom Act". The bill, known by opponents as the "Road Kill Utilization Act", would have eliminated all government regulation of food sold directly to the consumer. Despite its promise to return a sense of adventure to mealtime, the bill failed.

And the prospects for selling the meat to pet food producers are equally bleak. Duane Ekedahl, president of the Pet Food Institute, stated in 2007 that horse meat is not used in pet food products. This is not just because squeamish Americans are reluctant to feed one pet to another, but also because the most common wormer used in horses (ivermectin) accumulates in the brains of some dog breeds and has the unpleasant side effect of fatal encephalitis.

So Sue’s business venture makes no business sense, except to her. To Sue it makes perfect sense.

The big problem for horse slaughter proponents has always been that nobody wanted to be the "front man". When Wallis realized that she could get a stream of donations by fronting for those who wanted to see horse slaughter return but did not want to be seen supporting it, she probably sensed that she had struck gold.

Several agriculture web sites have begged their readers to send Wallis checks, and she has reportedly received donations from 249 entities ranging from agribusiness corporations to cattlemen’s organizations.

But it is highly unlikely that anyone would invest tens of millions of dollars into a business scheme that is just slightly less viable than selling ice water to Eskimos. If enough stupid money could be found to start the plant, the losses would soon shut it down leaving the owners with decorative stock certificates worth even less than her raffle tickets.

So Wallis has no business credentials, no cost estimate, no business plan, no license, no investors, and no market. Other than that she is ready to start killing horses almost immediately.

Potential investors might, however, want to look around for alternatives. There must be some of those great sub-prime mortgage backed securities left out there.