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AG bans tainted horse meat

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Horse meat tainted by chemical injections cannot legally be manufactured, sold or delivered in New Mexico, according to an opinion released Monday by state Attorney General Gary King.

That’s no problem, said attorney A. Blair Dunn, because Valley Meat Co. already has a federally approved testing regimen that checks every animal for chemical residue. Dunn represents the meat company, which has been trying for more than a year to get the necessary inspections to begin slaughtering horses at its Roswell plant, which was formerly used for cattle.

The AG’s opinion relies on a law called the New Mexico Food Act, which bans the manufacture and sale of “adulterated” food. King concluded that “adulterated” food includes meat from horses treated with chemical substances that have been banned by the Food and Drug Administration.

The opinion is in the form of a letter to state Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, who had asked King for an opinion on the legality of producing horse meat in New Mexico. The letter is largely focused on phenylbutazone, or PBZ, which can be used as an anti-inflammatory for race horses.

Dunn said the AG’s argument has no legal implications for his client, because PBZ is already banned by the FDA in meat destined for human consumption.

“Valley Meat Co. has an accepted drug testing process,” Dunn said. “There’s no substance being used in horses that we don’t have a test for.”

If approved, the Roswell plant would be the first in the nation since 2007, when horse slaughter was halted nationwide. At that time, Congress defunded the inspections necessary for horse slaughter, effectively ending the practice. That funding was restored in late 2011, but Valley Meat Co. and its owner Rick De Los Santos have struggled to get the approval necessary to begin slaughtering horses. His intent is to sell the meat overseas.

The issue has been divisive in New Mexico, as well as nationally, with animal rights groups arguing horse slaughter is inhumane. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals issued a statement Monday commending King’s opinion.

De Los Santos has contended slaughter is a sensible way to deal with a large population of starving horses in the state, which he says are likely to be slaughtered in Mexico anyway, under less humane conditions.

The issue has also divided the New Mexico congressional delegation along partisan lines, with the four Democrats opposed and Republican Steve Pearce in favor. King, a Democrat, and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez have voiced opposition to horse slaughter in the past.

Horses must go

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