NM Attorney General Sues to Halt Horse Slaughter Plant

NM Attorney General Sues to Halt Horse Slaughter Plant

Photo: Photos.com

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King has filed a lawsuit intended to prevent Valley Meats Co., LLC, from beginning horse processing operations early next year.

Horse processing has not taken place in the United States since 2007, when a combination of court rulings and legislation shuttered the last two domestic equine processing plants, which operated in Illinois and Texas.

Prior to 2007, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS) personnel carried out inspections at horse processing plants until Congress voted to strip the USDA of funds to pay personnel conducting federal inspections at those plants. Department of Agriculture funding bills contained amendments denying the USDA of funds to conduct horse processing plant inspections until November 2011, when Congress passed an appropriations bill that did not contain language specifically forbidding the agency from using federal dollars to fund horse slaughter plant inspections.

Shortly after that bill became law, horse process plants were proposed in several states. Most were never developed. However, in June 2013 Atty. Blair Dunn, who represents the owners of the Valley Meats Co., LLC, in Roswell, N.M., announced that, after months of waiting, the company had received an FSIS permit. The permit allows placement of USDA personnel at the meat processing plant to carry out house meat inspections there. According to Dunn, the Valley Meats plant would employ between 40 and 100 workers and would serve markets outside the U.S.

In its written statement, a USDA spokesperson said that under current legislation, the agency is legally bound to conduct horse meat inspections at the New Mexico plant.

In April 2013, the Front Range Equine Rescue and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) announced that those groups would bring a federal lawsuit challenging that any permit issued to Valley Meats on grounds that the USDA failed consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the horse slaughter plant's potential impact on the environment. In October, U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo allowed that lawsuit to expire without ruling on the case.

On Dec. 13, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that HSUS and Front Range Equine failed to “meet their burden” for an injunction that would prevent the New Mexico plant as well as plants pending in Missouri and Iowa from beginning horse processing operations.

On Dec. 19, New Mexico's Atty. Gen. Gary King filed a lawsuit in District Court in Santa Fe County seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) and an injunction against Valley Meats Co., LLC., preventing the firm from launching its horse processing operations Jan. 1, 2014.

According to the complaint, King is asking the court to stop Valley Meats horse processing operation on grounds that the firm allegedly has a poor record of complying with state environmental rules.

“I took this action because horse slaughter presents a genuine risk to New Mexicans’ health and to our natural resources,” said King.  “Valley Meat Company’s record of violating the state’s laws regarding food, water quality, and unfair business practices, poses serious dangers to public health and safety, to the natural environment, and to the public’s use and enjoyment of public resources, namely groundwater and land.”

King also alleges that domestic horses routinely receive drugs that are banned for use in food animals, and that the horses Valley Meats would process are allegedly unsafe for human consumption.

Atty. Blair Dunn, who represents Valley Meats Co., LLC, said King's suit is costly and beyond the jurisdiction of the attorney general's office.

“We are very disappointed that Gary King continues to waste tax payer money to harass and bully a lawful business that would supply much needed jobs to Roswell,” Dunn said. “The (attorney general) does not have jurisdiction, the New Mexico Environment Department does and they are the experts, and when it comes to meat, the Federal Meat Inspection Act preempts and controls meat products sold into international and interstate commerce.”

No court date in the case has been set.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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