A bill is expected to come up for a vote in the House Monday that its sponsor says is designed to make horse meat processing plant operators feel welcome in Tennessee.
Rep. Andy Holt, a Republican from Dresden, says the bill would create jobs and a place for unwanted horses to die a humane death.
"We're trying to encourage job creation and economic development in the state of Tennessee," Holt says.
Holt says rural middle Tennessee is a likely location, although he won't say where or who's behind the effort.
"I don't think it's anyone's authority to make me divulge who these people are. This has been a controversial issue," Holt says.
Americans don't eat horses, but horse meat is served in a number of other countries, like Belgium. Right now, there are no horse slaughter plants in the United States, but that could change because Congress has lifted a five-year ban which effectively prevented slaughter for human consumption.
Rep. Janis Sontany, a Democrat from Nashville, opposes opening a slaughter plant in Tennessee.
"This is an industry that is historically fraught with noncompliance with environmental, worker safety and health-related policies," Sontany says.
A plant that operated in Texas caused problems there, including issues of the disposal of discarded horse body parts. Sontany says a high number of injured workers with no insurance were a burden on the local hospital.
"This is an industry that's going to come into a rural area, and they're going to devalue property," Sontany says.
Animal rights advocates like "Animals' Angels" have documented problems around the slaughter plants now operating in Mexico and in the holding pens in American border towns. Their website shows pictures of animals rejected for slaughter that were left to starve.
Holt says bad actors need to be weeded out by regulators. Horse slaughter, he says, is more humane than owners allowing their unwanted horses to die from neglect.
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