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Attorney general’s new lawsuit aims to keep horse slaughter plant closed

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New Mexico Attorney General Gary King

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King announces his office has filed a lawsuit asking for a temporary restraining order to stop a planned horse slaughtering plant from opening Jan. 1 (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

New Mexico’s top prosecutor filed a lawsuit Thursday in state district court in an attempt to block a planned horse slaughter plant from opening in less than two weeks.

The move by Attorney General Gary King comes after a federal appeals court rolled back a court order that had kept Valley Meat Co. from starting operations. Owner Rick De Los Santos has been planning to open Jan. 1, and his attorney said on Thursday that those plans haven’t changed.

Attorney Blair Dunn called King’s lawsuit frivolous and a waste of taxpayer money. Under state law, if a judge issues a restraining order or preliminary injunction, a security bond would have to be posted by the state while the legal challenge winds its way through the court, he said. That could cost New Mexico as much as $435,000 a month, he said.

“As a New Mexican, as a taxpayer, I’m beyond offended, and I think it’s almost criminal what they’re doing. They’re wasting everybody’s money,” Dunn said.

King defended the lawsuit, saying Valley Meat stands to violate state laws related to food safety, water quality and unfair business practices.

“I believe that the operation of this plant in New Mexico is antithetical to the way we do business in New Mexico,” King said. “We don’t eat horses in New Mexico, and we think this is an inappropriate use of this plant.”

King’s office also disputed claims it would have to pay any kind of bond because the suit alleges violations of the state’s Unfair Practices Act.

Valley Meat and proposed plants in Missouri and Iowa have been targeted by animal protection groups trying to block the slaughtering of horses.

Valley Meat began the effort to resume domestic horse slaughter two years ago, after Congress lifted its ban on the practice. In August, as plants in the three states were preparing to open, The Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection groups sued to contest the Department of Agriculture’s permitting process.

A federal judge in Albuquerque issued a temporary restraining order, prompting the Iowa company to convert its operations to beef. U.S. District Judge Christine Armijo threw out the lawsuit in November, allowing all three companies to proceed.

The animal groups appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued an emergency motion that again blocked the plants from opening. The appellate court lifted that order last week, saying the groups “failed to meet their burden for an injunction pending appeal.”

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