Washington State Targeted for Equine Slaughter

Horse Harbor Foundation informs about the impending disaster of horse slaughter in Stanwood, Washington, in the following report. 

STANWOOD, WA — This small upscale community north of Seattle has long been known to the region’s equestrian community as the Pacific Northwest’s “Death Row for Horses” because of the location near here of a major buying station, collection point and feedlot for U.S. horses destined to die and be butchered in one of Canada’s equine slaughterhouses for human consumption abroad.

If a reported plan by the giant Canadian horse meat packing company Bouvry Exports-Calgary to reopen the Florence Packing plant on Florence Road for equine slaughter to service developing markets for its product in Russia, China and other Asian nations is accurate, Stanwood soon might become better known as the region’s “Butcher Shop for Horses”.

Horses were slaughtered onsite at the isolated Florence Packing facility for about 20 years after it opened in 1974, although original applications to Snohomish County for zoning and use permits indicated it would butcher cattle.

It is now a major provider of horses acquired throughout the region to Bouvry Exports’ huge Fort MacLeod slaughterhouse near Calgary. Bouvry Exports owns and operates two of the four horse killing facilities in Canada, the other being its Richelieu Meats brand name equine slaughterhouse in Quebec.

Wayne Lindahl, manager of the local feedlot operation, says that an average of two truckloads of horses are shipped weekly from here to their deaths at Bouvry Exports’ Fort MacLeod facility. Equine slaughter is currently under attack in Canada by animal welfare advocates as constituting animal cruelty because horses cannot be killed in large numbers in an efficient and humane manner and investigation after investigation shows them enduring horrible pain and suffering in these meat processing operations.

“Florence Packing” is another brand name for Bouvry Exports, along with “Bouvry”, “Richelieu” and “Springbank Bison”, and a source with close ties to Bouvry Exports has alerted equine advocates in Washington and other states in the region that the company has plans to modernize the Stanwood facility and begin slaughtering American horses here again because of its proximity to air freight transport to Pacific Rim markets.

Bouvry Exports traditional markets in Europe have been made more expensive to service and are expected to shrink because of new health standards imposed by the European Union on horse meat imports to countries there.  The Asian markets have no such restrictions and also represent a market for lower quality animals than those in demand in Europe, meaning many more horses that were previously owned and loved as companion animals will die here if the Florence Packing slaughterhouse is reopened.

Claude Bouvry, owner and president of the giant Canadian meat exporting company, which is the only horse slaughter operation currently licensed and bonded for meat processing in the United States by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), has failed to deny or even respond to questions about his reported plan for Stanwood despite repeated attempts in recent weeks to contact him by both email and telephone from equine advocates and at least one member of the local television news media.

A group of equine rescue sanctuary operators from throughout states in the region expected to provide doomed horses to the Stanwood location have banned together to try and demonstrate to the public, county and local officials that a horse slaughterhouse will be a detriment to their community as these facilities proved to be in Texas and Illinois before equine slaughter was halted in the United States in 2007. Their goal is convince Snohomish County commissioners to pass an ordinance banning equine slaughter and prevent the resumption of horses being butchered here.

Allen Warren of the Horse Harbor Foundation in Poulsbo and spokesman for the group said that a denial by Bouvry of the plan to begin killing and butchering horses here would have been welcomed, but his failure to do so only lends credence to the report from a source close to the Canadian company’s management.

The horse rescuers contend that despite propaganda by some in the commercial equine industry, which uses horse slaughter as a convenient way to dump horses after their productive careers are over or they do not meet their standards, there are immediate and viable alternatives for these at-risk horses, born and bred as companion and sports animals in America and not for the food chain.

In addition members of the group point out that reopening the Stanwood facility to horse slaughter poses a tremendous risk to the area’s environment based on the experience of other communities where these operations have been located.  This is particularly true here since Florence Packing is situated on the banks of the Stillaguamish River, which has salmon hatcheries downstream.  They will present evidence to the county commissioners of this hazard from communities in Texas and Illinois, which still suffer from the effects of equine slaughter years after plants there were closed.

Members of the equine rescue group opposed to equine slaughter in Washington in addition to Horse Harbor are Pasado’s Safe Haven, Monroe; Second Chance Ranch, Elma; Center Valley Animal Rescue, Quilcene; Avalon Mist Equine Rescue, Yakima; and Sunrise Equine Rescue, Grapeview.  They are joined by the Montana Horse Sanctuary,  Great Falls; and  Western Montana Equine Rescue & Rehabilitation, Corvallis, in Montana; Strawberry Mountain Mustangs, Roseburg, and  HyTyme Equine Rescue, Portland, in Oregon, and Free Spirits Equine Rescue of Ketchum, Idaho. They are supported by the national Animal Law Coalition headquartered in Seattle, which is currently reviewing the Snohomish County codes prior to drafting a horse slaughter ban ordinance for consideration by the commissioners.

A controversy over the return of equine slaughter is now raging across the country following a last minute amendment to this year’s Congressional Appropriations Bill that reinstated funding for USDA meat inspections for horse meat which ended in 2007.  As a result equine slaughter is now legal in the United States again despite being opposed by a full 80 percent of the American public in a recent poll.

The situation here has also been closely monitored by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which has threatened to bring legal action against USDA unless a standing court order requiring environmental impact studies prior to the issuance of meat inspection approval to any new concerns applying for this service is complied with.

There is some question whether Florence Packing as an existing horse slaughterhouse would fall under this ruling, but the regional animal welfare organizations promise to bring an injunction here against the plant opening to determine this if Bouvry Exports moves to resume killing horses at the Stanwood plant.  This would compliment any legal action taken by HSUS against the USDA.

“We believe that the people of Western Washington in particular and also our surrounding states are even more opposed than the national average to the brutal and unnecessary trade of butchering horses, companion and sports animals never bred and raised for the human food chain, and intend to show Bouvry in no uncertain terms that it is bad enough he is murdering our horses in Canada and under no circumstances do we want him doing it here also,” the horse rescuers state.

Bouvry Exports also operates buying stations and feedlots in Fallon, NV, and Shelby, MT, with the three locations trucking thousands of horses from the western United States annually to its two equine slaughterhouses in Canada.

A search of Snohomish County records has established that all licenses and permits for the Florence Packing slaughter operation have been kept up to date and there is no impediment to its killing horses again from a local, county or state code standpoint.

Further evidence that the plan by Bouvry Exports is real is that the meat packing industry trade publication Livestock Weekly recently reported that insider information indicates an existing equine slaughterhouse in the United States will be modernized and horse slaughter might begin as early as this Spring. Florence Packing is one of only three or four such facilities in the country that fit this description.

Horse slaughter was effectively halted in this country by a U.S. District Court ruling on March 28, 2007, that it was illegal for horse meat packers to pay USDA inspectors directly, a practice allowed by the George W. Bush administration.  The following day USDA pulled its inspectors out of the three plants operating at that time, two in Texas and one in Illinois, all foreign owned.  The court order requiring environmental impact studies by USDA prior to plant openings stemmed from this case.

Equine advocates had long argued that allowing the horse slaughters to pay for their own inspections made a mockery out of the system and failed to take into account the high degress of pain and suffering that takes place when horses are killed in an assembly line process.

Since that time the slaughter of American horses has continued virtually unabated, numbering over100,000 each year, as they have been trucked instead across the borders to their deaths in Canada and Mexico.   Although horse slaughter proponents claim the trade is necessary to deal with small percentage each year of America’s horses they call “unwanted”, horse rescuers say that no horse is unwanted in this country and all that are displaced can be saved if the breeding and racing industries contribute financially to their efforts to their existing programs to re-home them instead.

In fact it was a White Paper outlining viable and immediate alternatives to slaughter for at-risk horses that brought the Bouvry Exports plan for Stanwood to the equine rescuerers’ attention.   A family member of a Bouvry Exports employee read this document written by Warren in 2010, and then contacted him to alert him to Bouvry’s plan to reopen Stanwood. This person remains unnamed to protect the family from reprisal.

The inside source said the Stanwood slaughter plant and feedlot were chosen by Bouvry to reintroduce equine slaughter to the U.S. because it can be readied far faster and less expensively than building from scratch at one of its other two facilities in Montana and Nevada, and also because of its location on the Pacific Rim and proximity to a major airport between Seattle and Tacoma for fast overseas transport of its product to countries where there are no health requirements such as those in Europe.

Bouvry Exports has already been investigated numerous times for inhumane practices in handling and killing horses, including by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Humane Society International/Canada, the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition and Animals Angels.

Although horses are supposed to be stunned and at least unconscious before their throats are slit and being butchered, hidden videos taken in Bouvry Exports facilities and other Canadian slaughterhouses has shown a high percentage of incidents where this is not the case.  In one, a horse was struck a total of 11 times by a captive bolt killing device before it was finally rendered unconscious.

“Although all mass forms of animal slaughter are brutal to a large degree, most food chain animals such as swine and cattle are relatively controllable when meeting their fate,” Warren said.  “But horses by their very nature are inquisitive and fearful animals, uncomfortable with confinement and are extremely head shy, making it virtually impossible to kill them cleanly by either gunshot or the more modern captive bolt system.”

Video after video shows horses being shot or struck by a bolt in the head repeatedly in Bouvry Exports operated and other Canadian equine slaughterhouses, only to struggle back to their feet in obvious agony.

“Their pain and suffering are unquestionably inhumane in even the most modern plants and some of the videos actually show horses screaming in anguish before they die”, Warren continued.  He said another potential legal avenue to try and stop equine slaughter in Washington might well be that it inherently violates the state’s animal cruelty laws.

The anonymous source, a self-described horse lover, has provided so much detailed information, much of which has been verified, the horse rescuers are convinced that the plan to start slaughtering horses in Stanwood is imminent and say their respective nonprofit sanctuaries will take the lead in organizing opposition from other animal welfare organizations, the general public and state, local and county officials to try and stop the plant from opening and prevent even one horse from being kill and butchered here.

“Despite what those who would make a profit on equine slaughter claim, there are no “unwanted horses” in our country and those of us who have dedicated our lives to saving these animals which have served mankind so faithfully throughout history hope the people of Snohomish County will join us in preventing this unconscionable atrocity from ever taking place here again,” Warren concluded.

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