Three days after a federal judge cleared the way for horse slaughterhouses in the United States to open, a federal appeals court on Monday once again put those plans on hold – at least temporarily.
The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver approved an emergency injunction requested by the plaintiffs in a long-running dispute over horse slaughter.
The Humane Society of the United States and other parties that oppose the slaughterhouses appealed their case Saturday after a federal judge in New Mexico on Friday threw out their lawsuit.
A slaughterhouse in Roswell and one in Missouri had hoped to start up as soon as this week after U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo’s action Friday. The lawsuit alleged the Agriculture Department had failed to conduct proper environmental studies when it issued permits to Valley Meat Co. in Roswell and an Iowa company to slaughter horses for human consumption. The Iowa company abandoned its plan to process horse meat after a restraining order was issued in August.
Blair Dunn, attorney to three of the defendants, including Roswell’s Valley Meat Co., called Monday’s injunction and appeal “frivolous attempts to delay” the slaughterhouse business.
“I feel very confident and my clients feel very confident that when the U.S. government presents its side and the companies present their side, this is very temporary,” he said.
Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle said in a statement, “We are pleased to win another round in the courts to block killing of these animals on American soil for export to Italy and Japan.”
The organization is also pursuing its cause in Congress through legislation that would ban horse slaughterhouses. Congress lifted a previous ban two years ago.
The Appeals Court’s temporary injunction bars the Department of Agriculture from inspecting the plants.
Valley Meat general manager Ricardo De Los Santos said Monday that the company began calling back former employees. He said he expects to hire eight to 10 workers initially and as many as 50 should the plant restart operations.
“I told them don’t quit your jobs; we’ll be in touch as soon as we know a little bit better” when the plant will re-open, De Los Santos said.
The court will hear briefings this week, and the injunction will remain in place until a decision is made, according to Bruce Wagman, attorney for Front Range Equine Rescue and other plaintiffs.
The debate over a return to domestic horse slaughter has been an emotional one that centers on whether horses are livestock or companion animals and what is the most humane way to deal with the country’s horse overpopulation, particularly in the drought-stricken West. Supporters say it is better to slaughter unwanted horses in regulated domestic plants than to ship them to sometimes inhumane plants in Mexico.
The issue has divided horse rescue and animal welfare groups, ranchers, politicians and Indian tribes.
The companies want to ship horse meat to countries where it is consumed by humans or used as animal feed.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.