Nebraska Lawmakers Consider Horse Processing, Rescue Bills

Proposed legislation in Nebraska could facilitate horse processing plant development in that state, while a companion bill would penalize rescue operators who turn away horses brought to them for care.

Introduced on Jan. 12, LB 305 would establish a state inspection program for plants that process meat and poultry for human consumption. The program would operate under USDA State Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) Program requirements.

MPI programs operate in several states under cooperative agreement with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Under the agreement, participating states must enforce food safety requirements that meet or exceed those contained in the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act. Food products produced under the state inspections may not be distributed across state lines. Meat could be exported if plant operator can develop business ties with foreign markets, or if a foreign company is the developer.

LB 305 sponsor State Sen. Tyson Larson said the bill would support existing plants that process grass-fed cattle, bison, elk, and ostrich. The measure would also invite horse processing plant developers to the state, he said.

"It's economic development for rural Nebraska," Larson said.

Aside from generating jobs, a revitalized horse processing industry would provide a commercial outlet for ranchers and owners who are unwilling or unable to maintain their horses, Larson said.

Valerie Hinderlider, operator of the Break Heart Ranch horse rescue in Minden, Neb., opposes slaughter plant development in Nebraska, but she said the bill will probably gain traction among legislators.

"It would set a horrible precedent," Hinderlider said. "But there's a lot of money in (horse) processing, and the culture here would support it."

Meanwhile, LB 306, which is also sponsored by Larson, would require equine rescue operators to accept and provide care for any horse brought to them by owners, law enforcement officers, or other authorities. If passed, violators would face criminal misdemeanor charges.

Larson said LB 306 is intended to get processing proponents and equine welfare advocates talking about ways to reduce the number of unwanted horses in the state.

"I'm giving them an option here," Larson said. "If rescues don't want processing, then they have to take the horses."

Hinderlider said if passed, LB 306 would overwhelm the state's equine rescue organizations.

"Rescues are already struggling financially, and if this passes it would open the flood gates for people who just don't feel like taking responsibility for their horses anymore," Hinderlider said "Horse rescue will not exist here."

Both LB 305 and LB 306 were referred to the Nebraska Senate's Agricultural Committee for review.

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