N.M. Judge Extends Horse Processing Plant Hearing

N.M. Judge Extends Horse Processing Plant Hearing

A New Mexico judge has delayed his decision regarding a horse processing plant in Roswell so he can hear arguments on both sides of a case brought by the state's attorney general to prevent the plant from opening.

Photo: Photos.com

A New Mexico judge has delayed his decision regarding a horse processing plant in Roswell so he can hear arguments on both sides of a case brought by the state's attorney general to prevent the plant from opening.

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. Blair Dunn, attorney for Valley Meats, said the plant would employ between 40 and 100 workers and would serve markets outside the United States.

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, 2013, a U.S. District allowed the lawsuit to expire without ruling on the case.

At the time, HSUS Director of Equine Welfare Keith Dane said in a written statement that both Front Range Equine Rescue and HSUS would appeal the decision.

On Dec. 13, 2013, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colo., ruled that HSUS and Front Range Equine failed to “meet their burden” for an injunction that would prevent the New Mexico plant from beginning operations.

Then, on Dec. 19, 2013, New Mexico's Atty. Gen. Gary King filed a lawsuit in District Court in Santa Fe County seeking a temporary restraining order and an injunction against Valley Meats, preventing the firm from launching its horse processing operations Jan. 1, 2014. King's lawsuit asked the court to stop the horse processing operation on grounds that the firm allegedly has a poor record of complying with state environmental rules.

On Jan. 3, State District Judge Matthew Wilson extended hearing on the King case to Jan. 13 in order to hear arguments on both side of the case.

Dunn said he agrees with the judge's decision, even though it delays the opening of his client's plant.

“We think the judge made the right decision, but it just puts off the opening of my client's plant another 10 days,” said Dunn. “We have been going back and forth with this for two years, and I think we're almost at end of challenges.”

King's Communications Director Phil Sisneros said the attorney general was also pleased with Wilson's decision.

"We are satisfied that Judge Wilson will next consider the attorney general's motion to enjoin Valley Meat on a longer-term basis," Sisneros said. "The health and safety of New Mexico citizens, along with protecting our state's groundwater, continue to be at stake."

Arguments on both sides of the case will be heard on Jan. 13 in Santa Fe.

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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