Animal rights groups that successfully campaigned for a temporary ban on horse slaughter activities at meat processing facilities in New Mexico and Iowa must post a $435,000-plus bond by Aug. 15 if they hope to keep their legal challenge alive in federal court.
That was the ruling of Federal Magistrate Robert Scott of Albuquerque Thursday who ordered the Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue and other plaintiffs to post the bond in the event the group loses a lawsuit that charges the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) failed to conduct environmental reviews as required by the National Environmental Protection Act before granting federal permits that would have allowed the two plants to open as early as last Monday.
Albuquerque Federal District Judge Christina Armijo issued a temporary restraining order last Friday that stopped Valley Meat Company of Roswell, New Mexico, and Responsible Transportation of Sigourney, Iowa, from opening their doors and beginning slaughtering and processing horses for the first time in over seven years until the lawsuit is settled.
The last horse slaughterhouse closed its doors in 2007 when Congress failed to fund federal meat inspections, a requirement before the plant's product could be exported to foreign buyers. But congressional action in 2011 restored funding for inspections, prompting a number of slaughterhouses to request permits. After issuing permits to the two companies named in the injunction last month, USDA officials say they had no legal reason to deny those applications based upon current law.
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Although the temporary injunction prevented the plants to proceed with plans to open this week, Armijo set a hearing date for Monday where representatives from the processing companies could make arguments about expected losses as a result of the delayed opening. If the plaintiffs were to lose the lawsuit, the bond would be forfeited to the companies as a result to cover their losses.
Magistrate Robert Scott delayed the hearing from Monday until Thursday to allow attorneys representing the companies to gather financial information to support their arguments concerning expected losses caused by the delay.
On Thursday morning, Blair Dunn, representing Valley Meat Company and Pat Rogers, the attorney who represents Responsible Transportation, told the court that they calculate delays in opening could easily cost the companies $1.5 million a month and further argued the case could take several months to settle, resulting in losses exceeding $10 million or more for each company.
In spite of the arguments, the magistrate ruled that the plaintiffs are required to post bond in the amount of $435,600 to cover the first 30 days of delay in opening. The ruling also requires another hearing to be set to reconsider the issue before the end of that 30-day period.
An attorney representing the plaintiffs called the plants' estimated losses "creative accounting" while attorneys for the defendants charged the animal rights groups of attempting to delay their opening until Congress can enact legislation that would permanently halt horse slaughter operations in the United States.
Both the House and Senate appropriations committees have already voted this year to block USDA funding that would allow federal inspections at horse slaughterhouses in fiscal year 2014. They also agreed to ask Congress for a permanent ban on horse slaughter operations.
The issue has sparked an emotional national debate about how to deal with the large number of abandoned or unwanted horses across the country. It has divided animal rights groups, ranchers, Indian tribes and horse owners.
While many claim horse slaughter operations are cruel and provide a product for human consumption that is both unsafe and environmentally unfriendly, others say transporting horses great distances to unregulated slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada offers a far worse solution to the growing problem of abandoned or unwanted horses.
While human consumption of horse meat is illegal in the United States, a number of other countries worldwide allow the practice.