Permit Woes Complicate NM Horse Processing Plant Opening

A denied wastewater permit and a high-profile lawsuit will not prevent the Valley Meats Co. LLC from opening its horse processing plant on time, according to the firm's attorney, Blair Dunn. Meanwhile, one equine scientist thinks horse processing could be good for the equine industry.

On June 28 Valley Meats received a USDA Food Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) permit, which allows the placement of USDA personnel at the processing plant to carry out horsemeat inspections. According to a USDA representative, the plant is slated to open on Aug. 5. However, Dunn said that on July 22, the New Mexico Environment Department denied Valley Meats' request for a wastewater permit, pending a hearing. In response to the denial, Valley Meats has now contracted with a firm that installed wastewater tanks on the Valley Meats property and would haul wastewater from that property.

“It's just another expense, but it won't keep us from opening Aug. 5,” Dunn said.

At the same time, actor Robert Redford and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson have helped fund a foundation that will join a federal lawsuit brought by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other equine welfare groups intended to make horse processing for human consumption illegal in the United States. The lawsuit alleges that U.S. culture does not support horse processing for human consumption and that chemical residue found in U.S. horsemeat is harmful to humans.

HSUS reported Richardson said he would do "whatever it takes to stop the return of horse slaughterhouses in this country and, in particular, my own state."

Meanwhile, Sheryl S. King, PhD, PAS, president of the Horseman's Council of Illinois and professor emeritus of equine science at Southern Illinois University, believes that mindful processing could be a humane answer to the surplus horse problem. She said she believes "it is better to euthanize these horses humanely than allow them to starve to death or travel many miles to slaughter plants.”

King also believes that concerns over chemical residue could be overcome by ensuring meat inspections are thorough: “It means that every single horse carcass is inspected, rather than every third beef carcass or chicken carcass currently examined. Any carcass that fails inspection would be taken out of the food chain immediately.”

Finally, King suggested equine welfare provisions could be built into processing procedures to make sure only horses that owners designate for processing arrive at plants. She proposes a tracking system allowing former owners to be notified if a horse was bought at auction; the former owner would then have the opportunity to buy the horse back.

The hearing regarding Valley Meats' wastewater permit is still in the works, and the HSUS lawsuit 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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