ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., Aug. 2, 2013- A federal judge granted a Temporary Restraining Order against USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to prevent the inspection of horse slaughter facilities to go forward.
U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo heard oral arguments Friday to block the operation of a Valley Meat Company horse slaughter facility in Roswell, New Mexico and Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, Iowa.
The lawsuit alleged that USDA failed to conduct proper environmental reviews before issuing new permits to slaughter horses. The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) led several groups in the lawsuit against the companies.
According to sources involved with the case, the judge agreed with the plaintiffs that USDA's drug residue testing program represented a major federal action that should have been subject to environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The Temporary Restraining Order prevents USDA from dispatching inspectors and enjoining the slaughter houses from slaughtering horses.
The New Mexico site would be the first plant to process horse meat for human consumption since 2007, when Congress blocked USDA from funding horse meat inspections. In 2011, Congress removed the ban and cleared the way for resumption of domestic horse slaughter.
USDA granted a permit for the New Mexico facility in June and shortly thereafter, one for the facility in Iowa. In her ruling, the judge recognized that the two companies would experience significant economic harm.
A national debate ignited after Congress lifted the inspection ban in 2011. While not a legal argument, the emotional appeal regarding the relationship between Americans and horses undoubtedly played a role.
Groups against the reinstitution of domestic horse slaughter, including HSUS and the Front Range Equine Rescue, raised concerns about the potential environmental harm of the facilities themselves as well as USDA’s expanded drug residue program for horse slaughter. The Sioux tribe, the Mescalero Apaches, the Minikoju Band of the Cheyenne River Tribe Lakota Indians joined the lawsuit against the domestic horse slaughter plants.
Although horse meat is not used for human consumption in the United States, some horse welfare groups, including the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and Native American tribes, including the Navajo and Yakama Nation, do not oppose the facilities due to the overpopulation of horse herds on native lands and the subsequent resource depletion. Another significant issue is one of animal welfare—specifically, the abandonment and starvation of unwanted horses without domestic slaughter, as well as the inhumane transportation to slaughter facilities across the border to Mexico. The Government Accountability Office recorded several of these cases in a 2011 report.
A preliminary injunction hearing will be held within the next 30 days.
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