N.M. Horse Processing Plant Wins Permit

N.M. Horse Processing Plant Wins Permit

Photo: Photos.com

A meat plant in New Mexico has received a federal permit to begin processing horses, but some equine welfare advocates are suing the USDA Food Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) for granting the processing permit in the first place.

Horse slaughter has not taken place in the United States since 2007 when a combination of court rulings and legislation shuttered the last domestic equine processing plants. Prior to 2007, USDA personnel carried out inspections at horse processing plants until Congress voted to strip the USDA of funds to pay personnel conducting those federal inspections. Subsequently, Department of Agriculture funding bills contained amendments denying the USDA of funds to conduct horse processing plant inspections until Nov. 2011 when Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed 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 processing plants were proposed in several states, but most were never developed. However, last Friday (June 28), 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, which allows the placement of USDA personnel at the plant to carry out horsemeat inspections.

In a written statement Dunn said, “Valley Meat Co., is encouraged that, after well over a year of delay, the process has finally reached completion. Valley will now begin final preparation to hire 40 to 100 employees over the coming weeks and months so that they may go to work providing a humanely harvested, safe, legally compliant product to the world markets.”

Dunn's statement went on to say that the company looks forward to “working cooperatively with USDA FSIS to ensure that all applicable laws and regulations are followed."

On June 28, the USDA issued its own statement about inspections at the New Mexico plant. In the written statement, a USDA representative said that unless Congress votes to enact another funding ban, the agency is legally bound to conduct horsemeat inspections at the New Mexico plant.

“Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, FSIS must issue a grant of inspection once an establishment has satisfied all federal requirements, as this plant has done,” the representative said. “FSIS anticipates two additional applications for equine inspection will meet the mandated requirements in the coming days.”

Despite the permit grant, controversy over the horse processing plant is not likely to evaporate soon. The Humane Society of the United States and Front Range Equine Rescue, in Larkspur, Colo., said on June 28 that they intend to sue the USDA over unresolved environmental and food safety issues relative to the permitting decision.

“America’s horses are not raised as food animals, and they receive numerous substances during their lives making them unfit and illegal for human consumption,” said Front Range president Hillary Wood. “Adding insult to injury, the suffering of the horses in the slaughter pipeline and the danger to humans makes this action more than inhumane, (and) we remain committed to stopping this insult to justice and our sense of justice.”

Finally, a new agriculture appropriations bill containing an amendment (the so-called Moran Amendment) that would strip the USDA of funds to conduct inspections at horse processing plants is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives. Anne Hughes, spokeswoman for Congressman Jim Moran—author of the Moran Amendment—said that the house is expected to act on that bill in early July. A similar measure stripping the USDA of horsemeat inspection funding has cleared the U.S. Senate Appropriation Committee and remains pending before the full Senate.

Ultimately, Tom Lenz, DVM, MS Dipl. ACT, believes lawmakers will decide if horse processing resumes in the United States.

“It will be interesting to see if the USDA inspectors are funded, which will be required before the plants will open,” he said.

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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