USDA Responds to Horse Processing Plant Appeal

USDA Responds to Horse Processing Plant Appeal

The USDA is not forbidden by law from inspecting horse processing plants, according to the agency's response to an appeal filed in the 10th District Circuit Count to stop horse processing in at a New Mexico plant and elsewhere.

Photo: Photos.com

The USDA said its Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) is not forbidden by law from inspecting horse processing plants, according to the agency's response to an appeal filed in the 10th District Circuit Count to stop horse processing in at a New Mexico plant and elsewhere.

Horse slaughter has not taken place in the United States since 2007 when court rulings and legislation shuttered the last domestic 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 inspections. In 2011, legislation reinstated USDA funding for U.S. horse processing plants and, in June 2013, Valley Meats Co. LLC in Roswell, N.M., received FSIS permit, which allows placement of personnel at the plant to carry out horsemeat inspections.

In April 2013, the Front Range Equine Rescue and the Humane Society of the United States 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, N.M.-based U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo allowed the lawsuit to expire without ruling on the case. Attorney Blair Dunn—who represents the owners of Valley Meats as well as the owners of Rains Natural Meats, another plant hoping to process horses in Gallatin, Mo. —said the expiration cleared the way for Valley Meats to begin processing horses in New Mexico.

However, on Nov. 4 the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colo., issued an emergency temporary injunction barring the USDA from inspecting the plants pending further order of the court. The ruling once again stops the opening of both the Valley Meats and Rains Natural Meats plant.

In a Nov. 6 response to the appeal, the USDA cited the Federal Meat Inspection Act saying that the act applies to “cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses, mules, and other equines,” and “imposes a nondiscretionary duty on FSIS to grant inspections at slaughter facilities meeting the requirements of the act.” At the same time, the USDA response said claims that the Valley Meats and Rains Natural Meats plants, in addition to a horse processing plant currently processing cattle in Iowa, will do “irreparable harm” to their environments are unsubstantiated.

Hilary T. Wood, president and founder of Front Range Equine, believes the USDA has long ignored its legal requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Rather than undertake the Congressionally mandated and open public review of the potential tragic environmental consequences of horses slaughter, the USDA has consistently ignored those obligations in a rush to begin horse slaughter,” she said. 

Meanwhile, in his court-filed response to the appeal, Dunn wrote that he believes “this case is not about National Environmental Policy Act. … Ultimately this case is about a disagreement over a national policy in which one side of the debate … has now turned their focus on using their vast resources to abuse the judicial systems to bully and exhaust the least able to defend themselves: the start-up small businesses looking to engage in a lawful enterprise endorsed by Congress as one of many solutions to address a national problem.”

The case remains pending.

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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