Humane Groups Named in Equine Slaughter-Related Lawsuit

Three humane groups are named in a lawsuit alleging that the organizations conspired to defame a New Mexico meat company in order to prevent it from processing horses for human consumption.

Horse processing has not taken place in the U.S. since 2007 when a combination of legislation and court rulings forced the closure of remaining horse slaughter plants in Illinois and Texas. U.S. horse processing again became possible in November 2011 when Congress passed a federal funding bill that did not contain language specifically denying the USDA funds for horse processing plant inspections. Though some plants have been proposed, no horse processing plants are currently operating in the United States.

In December 2011, Rick De Los Santos, owner of Valley Meat Co., LLC, submitted an application requesting the placement of USDA personnel to carry out horsemeat inspections at his Roswell, N.M., plant. In March, USDA personnel conducted an application-related tour of the Valley Meat plant, De Lost Santos said. A follow-up tour was slated for early April, but was postponed at De Los Santos' request until work to retrofit the plant specifically for horse processing was completed.

"I invested between $75,000 to $80,000 in the plant and my application was never processed," De Los Santos said.

In a lawsuit filed in October De Los Santos alleges that Animal Protection of New Mexico, Inc.; the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS); and Front Range Equine Rescue conspired to influence the public so that the USDA application for Valley Meats was never processed.

"The USDA told us all the funding (for inspections) was in place, everything was ready to go, but that it had become political," De Los Santos said.

According to the complaint filed in US District Court for the District of New Mexico, the HSUS, Front Range Rescue, and Animal Protection of New Mexico all intentionally acted to interfere with Valley Meat's lawful business, and to intentionally destroy the livelihood of De Los Santos and his wife, Sarah. The complaint also alleges that the groups publicly portrayed the De Los Santos' as "criminal, uncaring, and bad business operators.

No one from USDA was available for comment on the litigation.

HSUS Spokesperson Stephanie Twining declined comment.

Atty. Bruce Wagman, who represents Front Range Equine Rescue said the suit is groundless.

"It's frivolous," Wagman said. "(The lawsuit) is based on the good work Front Range Equine Rescue has done to prevent horse slaughter in America."

The 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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