Equine Welfare Groups Eye Lawsuit over USDA Inspections

The Front Range Equine Rescue, along with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), have announced that they will challenge on environmental grounds any horse processing plant inspection permit granted by the USDA to the Valley Meat Co., LLC.

Horse processing has not taken place in the U.S. since 2007 when a combination of legislation and court rulings forced the closure of remaining horse slaughter plants in Illinois and Texas. U.S. horse processing again became possible in November 2011 when Congress passed a federal funding bill that did not contain language specifically denying the USDA funds for horse processing plant inspections.

In December 2011 Rick De Los Santos, owner of the Valley Meat Co., submitted an application requesting the placement of USDA personnel to carry out horsemeat inspections at his Roswell, N.M., plant. In October 2012, De Los Santos filed a lawsuit alleging that the Animal Protection of New Mexico, Inc., the Humane Society of the United States, and Front Range Equine Rescue conspired to influence the public so that the USDA application for Valley Meats was never processed. That litigation remains pending. Currently, the Valley Meat Co., is awaiting an inspection permit from the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) that would allow the placement of USDA personnel at Valley Meats to carry out horsemeat inspections.

On April 16 the Front Range Equine Rescue and HSUS announced that the groups had sent a letter of intent to the USDA informing the agency that the groups would challenge any permit issued on grounds that the USDA has failed consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the horse slaughter plant's potential impact on the environment.

Front Range president Hilary Wood said that Valley Meat's horse processing operation would be devastating to water resources and the habitats of endangered species that reside near the plant.

“The byproducts of horse slaughter wreak environmental havoc, threatening the habitats and existence of other animals,” Wood said. “All of this to produce a toxic product, from animals not intended to become food, via a brutal process that Americans overwhelmingly oppose.”

A USDA representative declined to comment on the welfare groups' letter of intent.

Atty. Blair Dunn, who represents Valley Meat Co., denied the plant represented any environmental threat.

“Valley Meats has been here for 25 years and there are dairy cows (pastured) 50 ft. from here,” Dunn said. “It looks like a last ditch attempt to shut down the plant; use the law to keep somebody from doing their lawful business.”

Meanwhile, Dunn said that on April 23, a USDA/FSIS veterinarian is expected to conduct a final pre-permit visit to Valley Meat Co.

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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