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Horse Slaughter Opponents Sue USDA, Sigourney Operation Approved

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SIGOURNEY, Iowa - A business in Sigourney could be one of the first to begin slaughtering horses after congress banned the practice seven years ago. Tuesday the USDA gave a green light to Responsible Transportation LLC., a business which vows to humanely euthanize horses.

"I know that what we are doing will be more humane than shipping horses to Mexico," said Keaton Walker, founder of the business.

Walker said tens-of-thousand of horses have been shipped to slaughterhouses in Mexico annually since Congress banned horse slaughter in 2006. A recent law change has now made the practice legal, and Walker will soon own one of the few horse slaughterhouses in the nation.

The business is still pondering what to do with the meat, but one option is to sell it as zoo feed, Walker, 27, said.

Walker and his two business partners are all graduates of the University of Iowa.

"These are local guys," said Sigourney Mayor Pat Miletich. "I think they have a lot of support."

Walker said the business will likely employ 25 people. Inspectors still need to walk the site before operations can begin. The USDA is required by law to grant inspections to plants, which meet all required guidelines, effectively giving the green light to begin operations.

Both House and Senate agriculture committees have endorsed proposals to cut funding for horse slaughterhouse inspections. Such action would essentially reinstate the ban, but it's not clear if any action will be taken in the immediate future.

Members of the Humane Society have spoken out against the business and several others across the nation. This week animal rights groups also banded together to file a lawsuit against the USDA in an attempt to block horse slaughtering permits.

"These horses depend on us, I don't think it's too much to give them a humane end to life," said Bernie Lettington, who serves on the board of directors for the Iowa Federation of Humane Societies.

Walker said he hopes to be in business in the next several weeks.

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