The news story began with a simple declarative sentence:

“A U.S. District Court judge in St. Louis will decide if a meat processor in Gallatin, Mo., can begin slaughtering horses.”

How the story ends is as yet unknown, but for once, some sanity has been injected into the rancorous and polarizing fight over whether horses should be slaughtered here in the United States, under USDA’s watchful eyes, or shipped off elsewhere to meet the same fate, although likely under less desirable circumstances.

Because that’s what the argument is really about: Not whether horses should be slaughtered or whether . . . well, the opponents don’t really articulate what the alternative might be, but they’d like us to imagine a quiet, peaceful death in which the horse is surrounded by both human and equine loved ones, followed by a ceremonious burial with appropriate readings from Scripture.

Truth is, when horses grow old, when owners cannot afford their keep, or when they’ve simply been abandoned, the two choices are whether they will be slaughtered here or in Mexico or Canada. Not whether there any horse plants allowed to operate or not, but simply where in North America we prefer the animals be dispatched.

Right now, as numerous sources have noted, an estimated 175,000 horses are shipped each year to Mexico and Canada for slaughter, with most of the meat exported to Europe and Japan. Even as Valley Meat in New Mexico struggles to re-open as a horse plant, a business owner in Missouri awaits the federal court’s decision on whether a Missouri meat plant can also be permitted to handle horses.