U.S. Department of Agriculture officials approved the opening of a new equine slaughterhouse in New Mexico on June 28. The approval, a grant of inspection, was issued to Valley Meats Company in Roswell, N.M., and a second approval was issued to Responsible Transportation of Sigourney, Iowa, on July 2. USDA officials stated they expect to approve other applications soon.
If opened, the new slaughterhouse would be the first in the United States since 2006. Most recently, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee voted to eliminate funding for federal meat inspections at horse slaughter facilities—largely the same reason slaughterhouses have remained closed in the United States for seven years now. President Obama’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year eliminates funding for equine slaughterhouses, which would effectively reinstate a ban on the industry. Funding was eliminated from budgets between 2006 and 2010, but it was replaced in the FY 2011 federal budget.
“Since Congress has not yet acted to ban horse slaughter inspection, [the agriculture department] is legally required to issue a grant of inspection today to Valley Meats in Roswell, N.M., for equine slaughter,” USDA spokeswoman Courtney Rowe told the Chicago Sun-Times. “The Administration has requested Congress to reinstate the ban on horse slaughter. Until Congress acts, the Department must continue to comply with current law.”
Valley Meat Company’s owner, Rick de los Santos, sued the USDA last year, alleging that his applications to open a slaughterhouse were ignored for political reasons. USDA officials must still inspect the plant before it can officially open.
On June 28, the Humane Society of the United States and Front Range Equine Rescue announced plans to immediately file suit against the USDA to halt the opening of the slaughterhouse.
Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at the HSUS, stated: “The USDA’s decision to start up domestic horse slaughter, while at the same time asking Congress to defund it, is bizarre and unwarranted. Slaughter plants have a history of polluting their communities and producing horsemeat that is tainted with a dangerous cocktail of banned drugs. We intend to hold the Obama administration accountable in federal court for this inhumane, wasteful and illegal decision.”
On July 2, the Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue, Marin Humane Society, Horses for Life Foundation, Return to Freedom and five private individuals announced they’d filed suit against the USDA for violating the National Environmental Protection Act.
Hilary Wood, president of Front Range Equine Rescue, said in a release: “The USDA has failed to consider the basic fact that horses are not raised as a food animal. Horse owners provide their horses with a number of substances dangerous to human health. To blatantly ignore this fact jeopardizes human health as well as the environment surrounding a horse slaughter plant. The negative consequences of horse slaughter will be felt immediately and over the long term if allowed to resume in the U.S.”
Included in the original USDA release is information about how horsemeat will be tested in this country before being shipped abroad for consumption.
“Among other measures to protect the public health, [the Food Safety and Inspection Service] will test equine carcasses for illegal drug residues,” stated the release. “Because of the particular concerns about the possibility of drug residues in equine carcasses, FSIS will conduct intensified residue testing at establishments that receive a grant of inspection to slaughter equines.”