Since a U.S. 10th District Federal Appeals Court cleared the way for legal domestic horse slaughtering by throwing out a temporary injunction last week that had blocked the action, an attorney for Roswell-based Valley Meat Company announced the converted cattle processing facility is prepared to reopen its doors to begin start up operations as early as next Tuesday.
But New Mexico Attorney General Gary King filed a lawsuit in a state district court last Thursday to block plans to reopen carrying out promises by his office and those of New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez that the state was prepared to do everything possible to prevent the plant from ever slaughtering horses.
King argued last week that Valley Meat has the potential to violate food safety laws, and cited that as the reasons for this latest lawsuit.
The move marks at least the fourth legal action taken in New Mexico over the last six months in opposition to horse slaughtering operations in the state and at least the second legal move directed at keeping plant owner Rick De Los Santos’ meat processing plant shuttered.
Earlier this year, the New Mexico Environment Department refused to issue a wastewater permit to the plant, a move plant attorney Blair Dunn claimed was intended to slow the progress of plans to reopen the facility. Then in July, a coalition of animal welfare groups filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) claiming the federal agency failed to require environmental reviews before issuing a permit to the plant to reopen. That lawsuit resulted in a temporary restraining order that further delayed plans to reopen the processing plant.
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In November a federal judge in Albuquerque threw out the case and animal welfare groups, including Front Range Equine Rescue and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), immediately appealed the ruling to a U.S. District Appeals Court in Denver. A Denver federal judge has subsequently denied that appeal.
The New Mexico State Attorney General's lawsuit filed last week represents the latest move by individuals and groups opposed to domestic horse slaughtering who hope to continue presenting temporary roadblocks to a return of domestic horse slaughtering until Congress takes action to outlaw the practice "once and for all."
Earlier this year, Governor Martinez called horse slaughtering activities cruel and vowed to continue the fight to prevent the legal practice, a sentiment shared by many and one that has sparked a national and often heated debate.
The practice of slaughtering horses in the U.S. officially ended in 2007 when Congress failed to fund USDA meat inspections. But when Congress and the current administration failed to withhold those inspection funds last year, the issue resurfaced.
Call for permanent ban
Opponents immediately called for a permanent ban on the basis of animal protection, but proponents argued multiple years of drought had caused a worse case scenario for horses that were being starved by a lack of water and the high cost of feed, similar to what was happening to cattle herds across the nation.
While the slaughter of horses in the U.S. has been an emotional issue for many years, proponents also point out the issue goes a long way in promoting humane treatment and disposal of equine that are infirmed or otherwise beyond their usefulness and also clears the way for better management of wild herds on non-federal lands.
While commercial processing and consumption of horse meat in the U.S. is illegal, horse meat is a major staple in eight countries worldwide, with China, Mexico and Kazakhstan at the top of the list. Globally, the horse meat industry provides about 4.7 million horses a year for human consumption.
It is an issue that greatly divided groups. Last year the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) said they will protest the opening of new slaughterhouses, calling it a “heartbreaking development.” But the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) argued that the ban on horse meat inspections has increased horse neglect and abandonment, and says they were temporarily supporting the idea of commercial slaughter operations.
Since the lawsuit was filed in New Mexico last week there has been no official word from Valley Meat officials or their attorney. But sources near the plant in Roswell reported a flurry of activity at the facility late last week, a possible indication work to prepare the plant for opening may be continuing, at least until a State District judge takes up the latest lawsuit filed by the New Mexico Attorney General.