Oglala Sioux Tribe exploring possibility of horse slaughter facility in Bennett County

By Tim Huether

According to several sources, the Oglala Sioux Tribe is exploring the possibility of putting in a horse slaughter facility in Bennett County, which would make it one of a few in the nation.

Tribal council member Craig Dillon from the LaCreek District confirmed that they are indeed looking at it but said they have a long way to go, but have also come a long way on the project.

“We’ve met with the South Dakota Dept. of Agriculture, the Veterinary Dept., Inspectors and South Dakota Secretary of Tribal Relations J.R. LaPlante and had no problems from them and they were very receptive,” said Dillon. “We still have to bridge some gaps, but this can give us a kick in the pants. We’re looking at 100 to 125 jobs if this happens.”

Dillon said the idea originally came from tribal member Mike Carlow, who brought it to tribal council. Dillon is one of the members working to make it happen because he believes it can help revitalize the area by providing jobs and helping the overall economy in the process.

The location they are considering for the plant is just under two miles north and west of the U.S. Hwy 18 and U.S. Hwy 73 junction which is 12 miles east of Martin. The tribe owns approx. 220 acres there that Dillon said would be a good location.

The horse meat would likely be sold to zoos for feeding animals, used for dog food and human consumption as it is popular in many European markets.

“This plant would be just one of two in the western United States,” said Dillon. “It would be on Indian land with state inspectors. 

Dillon said the facility will cost about $25 million to build.

One big obstacle in their way is that the United States Department of Agriculture has included language in its 2014 budget proposal that would prevent horse slaughterhouses from reopening legally in the United States.

This plant would not fall under a reopening, however, USDA secretary Tom Vilsack’s current budget submission, which will be considered by Congress as part of a federal budget bill, specifically denies funding salaries or personnel to inspect horses at slaughter facilities. If that happens, it would cripple the facilities chances of getting off the ground.


“We still have to bridge some gaps, but this can give us a kick in the pants. We’re looking at 100 to 125 jobs if this happens.”



Dillon said most of the horses would not come from around here and there would be many controls in place to assure the quality and type of meat processed. 

Tribal member David Livermont expressed concern about the facility and said a lot of research needs to be done before anything happens. He also has a fear that area horses can be rounded up and sold for slaughter because most are not branded.

In 2005, federal lawmakers removed funding for inspections at horse slaughterhouses. Without those inspections, the meat could not be exported to international markets. That contributed to the closure of domestic legal horse slaughter plants in the United States by 2007, although U.S. horses continue to be exported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter. 

In 2011, Congress voted to restore funding for federal meat inspectors at equine slaughter facilities starting during fiscal year 2012.

No equine slaughterhouses are currently operating in the U.S., but Valley Meat Co. in New Mexico, and several other companies have applied for permits or are considering opening such facilities. 

Valley Meat Co. has sued the United States Department of Agriculture and agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack in federal court to challenge what Valley Meat termed “recent failure to provide inspections for horses for human consumption...in contravention of an unequivocal Congressional command.”

Slaughtering horses ended in the U.S. in 2007 after Congress began prohibiting the use of federal funds to inspect horses destined to become food during 2006. Following that ban, two plants in Texas and one in Illinois continued slaughtering horses using a voluntary, pay-for-service inspection program. All three were forced to close in 2007 after courts upheld state laws barring the sale or possession of horse meat and horse slaughter. 

Congress added another obstacle of horse slaughter for meat when it ended its paid inspection program in 2008.

The market shifted to Canada and Mexico, and the Senate Committee on Appropriations directed the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine the issue of horse welfare and the impacts caused by the cessation of horse slaughter in the U.S. 

The GAO conducted its review from April 2010 to June 2011 and issued its report.

From 2006 to 2010, exports of horses for slaughter increased by 148 percent to Canada and by 660 percent to Mexico. 

In 2006, the three facilities in Texas and Illinois slaughtered approximately 105,000 horses and exported 17,000 metric tons of meat valued at $65 million, the report said. Horses sent to Canada and Mexico that year for slaughter totaled 33,000. In 2010, Canada and Mexico slaughtered 138,000 horses from the U.S., equal to the number of U.S. horses slaughtered in all three countries in 2006. Canada had four horse slaughter plants at the end of 2010, and Mexico had three.

In 1990, nearly 346,000 horses were slaughtered in the U.S., and the country had 16 slaughter plants in the 1980s. By 2002, the number of horses killed in the U.S. had dropped to 42,312 and there were only two facilities in operation.

There are many proponent views and many opponent views that will be addressed later as this project moves forward.

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