ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Federal lawsuit seeks emergency injunction to overturn USDA permit
A federal lawsuit seeking an emergency injunction to overturn the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent permit approval for a horse meat plant in Roswell has been transferred from U.S. District Court in California to the U.S. District Court in New Mexico. The suit was filed July 1 by the Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue of Larkspur, Colo., three other groups and five individuals, four of whom live in Roswell.
Valley Meat Company, the former beef packing plant in Roswell that hopes to process horse meat for export, received its long-delayed permit for federal meat inspections on June 28.
The last U.S. slaughter plant to process horse meat for human consumption closed in 2007 after Congress approved an appropriations bill that prevented the USDA from funding horse meat inspections. That provision remained in subsequent appropriations bills until 2011, when Congress quietly removed it from an omnibus spending act, effectively clearing the way for resumption of domestic horse slaughter.
At least six applications for horse slaughter permits – known as “grants of inspection” – have been filed with the USDA. Besides Valley Meat Co., they include: Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, Iowa; Rains Natural Meats of Gallatin, Mo.; American Beef Company/Unified Equine in Rockville, Mo.; Trail South Meat Processing Co. in Woodbury, Tenn; and Oklahoma Meat Co. of Washington, Okla.
At least two of those applicants, Valley Meat Co. and Responsible Transportation, have received the needed permits, USDA spokeswoman Michelle Saghafi said Friday.
Because Congress has not yet acted to ban horse slaughter inspection, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service was legally required to grant the permits “once an establishment has satisfied all federal requirements as these plants have done,” she said.
Saghafi said the FSIS anticipates issuing a third grant of inspection in the coming days, but declined to identify for which applicant. “The (Obama) administration has requested Congress to reinstate the ban on horse slaughter,” Saghafi said, but until Congress acts, the USDA must continue complying with current law.
The federal suit alleges in part that the USDA has violated the National Environmental Policy Act by issuing grants of inspection and establishing a drug residue testing plan for horse slaughter without conducting required environmental reviews. The suit also claims that, by providing a grant of inspection to domestic horse slaughter plants, the USDA has acted “arbitrarily and capriciously and not in accordance with law … .” The suit asks the federal court to set aside the grants of inspection already approved, to stop issuing such permits and to refrain from implementing its equine drug residue testing plan until the suit is settled.
Albuquerque attorney A. Blair Dunn, who represents Valley Meat Co., said Valley Meat is seeking intervenor status in the federal suit. Valley Meat also has a federal suit pending against the USDA, claiming the agency intentionally delayed acting on its application for an inspection permit.