Federal Judge Clears Way for N.M. Horse Processing Plant

Federal Judge Clears Way for N.M. Horse Processing Plant

On Oct. 31, Albuquerque-based U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo allowed the lawsuit to expire without ruling on the case, clearing the way for Valley Meats to immediately begin processing horses in New Mexico.

Photo: Photos.com

A federal judge has allowed a lawsuit that could have prevented a New Mexico horse processing plant from opening to expire.

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.

In June 2013, Atty. Blair Dunn, who represents the owners of the Valley Meats Co. LLC, in Roswell, N.M., announced that the company had received a USDA Food Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) permit, which allows placement of personnel at the plant to carry out horsemeat inspections. Dunn said Valley Meats would employ between 40 and 100 workers and would serve markets outside the United States.

In its written statement at the time, a USDA representative said that unless Congress votes to enact another funding ban, 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 they would bring a federal lawsuit challenging any permit issued to Valley Meats on grounds that the USDA failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the plant's potential environmental impact.

On Oct. 31, Albuquerque-based U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo allowed the lawsuit to expire without ruling on the case, clearing the way for Valley Meats to immediately begin processing horses in New Mexico.

In a written statement, HSUS Director of Equine Welfare Keith Dane said that HSUS and Front Range Equine would appeal Armijo's decision.

“The Humane Society of the United States will not only appeal the decision, but also work with the states to block the plants from opening in Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico and step up efforts in Congress to stop the slaughter of American horses—in the states and also in Canada and Mexico,” the statement said.

The Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife, an organization funded by former N.M. Gov. Bill Richardson and actor Robert Redford, also issued a written statement: “We are extremely disappointed in today’s decision which opens the door to the senseless slaughter of one of our most precious and treasured animals. While we had worked hard towards, and hoped for, a different outcome, this development will not deter our steadfast commitment to protect these animals and to help develop humane alternatives.”

Meanwhile, Dunn said Valley Meats will begin processing horses as soon as possible.

“They are still working on getting equipment ready to get started,” Dunn said.

Valley Meats owners are also working at keeping themselves, the plant, and its workers safe, he said.

“It is an issue because the owners have had some death threats against them,” Dunn said. “The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into how some of these people have behaved.”

While Valley Meats prepares for processing, another horse processing plant—Rains Natural Meats, in Gallatin, Mo., also represented by Dunn—is slated to open shortly.

“The Gallatin, Mo., plant should be ready to go next week,” said Dunn. “It s just a matter of which plant (Valley Meats or Rains Natural Meats) will open first.

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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