Court action could lead to horse slaughter by next week, lawyer says

By Daniel Enoch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 3, 2014 - The lawyer for a New Mexico meat company says the business could begin slaughtering horses as early as next week should it prevail today in a judicial hearing in Santa Fe.

Attorney Blair Dunn is asking state District Judge Matthew Wilson to immediately lift his temporary restraining order preventing Valley Meat Co. from opening its plant near the city of Roswell. Wilson issued the injunction on Dec. 30 until he could hold a hearing in the lawsuit filed by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King alleging that the company's operations would violate state food-safety and water-quality laws.

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Dunn said he plans to put state Environment Department officials on the stand to rebut King's arguments, which he said have no merit and have already been shot down in previous court proceedings.

“The threat of environmental doom is exactly what was brought up before in federal court, and they lost,” Dunn said. “They have no more likelihood of succeeding now than before.”

Valley Meat and companies in Missouri and Iowa last year won federal permits to become the first horse slaughterhouses to operate in the U.S. since Congress cut off funding for USDA inspections at such facilities in 2006. Lawmakers reinstated the funding in 2011.

King filed his lawsuit two weeks ago after animal protection groups in August lost a bid to stop the openings in federal court. In a motion filed this week, Dunn argued that the attorney general lacks jurisdiction in the case, and that King sued to bolster his bid to become the state's next governor.

Phillip Sisneros, King's spokesman, denied there is any “political posturing'' surrounding the issue.

“AG King has a long record (as a former legislator and as the attorney general) putting him at the forefront of animal protection efforts in New Mexico,” Sisneros said. “Additionally, his championing of efforts to protect the state's environment is well known and documented.”

In a news release, King said the lawsuit was filed because commercial horse slaughter “is a new, untested enterprise that poses health and environmental risks to New Mexicans,” adding that horses are often administered drugs that are forbidden for use in food animals.

Dunn said the horses destined for slaughter are being held in feedlots for about six months to purge any drugs in their systems.

In an interview, Dunn said Valley Meat's owner, Rick De Los Santo, is ready to begin operations as early as next week, if Judge Wilson lifts his injunction and the company's wastewater plan passes a final muster by state environmental officials.

The company plans to start by processing about 20 to 30 horses a day, Dunn said. The meat would not be sold domestically, but would go to overseas markets for human consumption, or used in animal food. Valley plans to ramp up processing to about 120 horses a day once a rendering facility is opened on the site, Dunn said. About a dozen or so employees would open the facility, with the workforce growing to about 100, he said.

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