Project to study euthanizing horses gets state nod

DES MOINES – A state board Thursday agreed to invest $25,000 in a feasibility study for a proposed Iowa City project exploring a humane way to euthanize horses and process the meat for animal consumption.

The state Economic Development Board gave unanimous support for a grant to Responsible Transportation, LLC, a startup company that intends to “consolidate unwanted horses across the Midwest” and put down the animals free of charge, according to DED documents. The company, which pledged nearly $31,000 for the study to be completed by July 2011, has used innovation to improve animal handling practices.

Board member Jerry Courtney, who handled the application for financial assistance, said “I was pretty skeptical what we’re doing this for” but noted the study is covered by board rules and approved by the Legislature. Courtney called the request “a fascinating project” but admitted “when I got this project, I said ‘whoa, what did you drop this on me for” fearing the issue will attract the attention of animal-rights activists.

“This is something that is new and different to us. It will be interesting to see how it works,” added Courtney, who said the latest research indicated there are about 200,000 horses in Iowa.

Responsible Transportation requested technical assistance funding for third-party research that will allow the company to conduct a feasibility study, plan for the development of a processing plant, perform an export analysis, and design a Website and building design. The activity will facilitate the company application for a U.S. Department of Agriculture guaranteed loan to further the business operation, according to board documents.

According to the University of Iowa News Service, the business plan for Responsible Transport, LLC, was written by Keaton Walker of Washington, a May graduate in industrial engineering who won a UI College of Engineering’s entrepreneurial startup award this year providing $10,000 in initial financial support. The project also won a $5,000 grand prize in the Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory’s end-of-year competition.

Walker could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Scott Beckstead, a lawyer and lifelong horseman from Oregon who is an equine protection specialist with the Humane Society of the United States, questioned whether the plan would be feasible since Congress defunded government inspections of U.S. horse slaughterhouses and American horses often are given anti-inflammatory drugs that would pose a risk to animal feed stock.

“I just think it’s a waste of the taxpayers’ money,” he said.

Beckstead questioned whether there would be true humane approaches to euthanizing horses in a processing setting. He also said the reference in the study language to an export analysis “raises all sorts of red flags” that the meat might be processed for human consumption in foreign countries where horse meat is considered a delicacy and sells for high prices.

In other action Thursday, the board:

Industrial Design Fabrication & Installation started in 2000 and expanded in 2004 as a job shop that designs, fabricates and installs various products mainly for the food-processing industry, with its main products including conveyor systems, tables, stands, catwalks and switches. 3T Systems began in 2007 as a welding company specializing in pipe fittings and pipe welding for the food-processing industry.

The proposed project includes plans to construct a building along U.S. Highway 67 in downtown LeClaire to house 5,600 square feet of production space and 1,120 square feet dedicated to a tasting and retail area. The project budget covered by the state funding request only dealt with costs related to the production of liquors, which was $637,500 of the nearly $1.2 million overall project, according to DED documents.

The proposed project, which is expected to create and retain 20 jobs, will assist in the engineering design for manufacturing of a new product line considered to be safer, more user-friendly and enabling more time efficient and cost effective drug preparation and delivery, according to board documents.

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