SANTA FE – A state judge on Monday kept in place a temporary ban on opening a Roswell horse slaughterhouse while he weighs whether to allow operations by a company the attorney general calls “a chronic bad actor.”
District Judge Matthew J. Wilson of Santa Fe said he would decide by Friday whether to issue the preliminary injunction against Valley Meat Co. sought by Attorney General Gary King’s office.
Valley Meat, which used to slaughter cattle at the Roswell site, has been waging a battle for two years to reopen the plant as New Mexico’s only slaughterhouse for horses.
“This is an option that New Mexico needs. It is a lawful business,” the company’s attorney, Blair Dunn, said during nearly nine hours of arguments and testimony on Monday.
Assistant Attorney General Ari Biernoff told the judge Valley Meat has a “very poor track record of complying … with a variety of environmental laws” and that its planned operations risked polluting water at the site and introducing drug-contaminated horse meat to the food supply.
Biernoff also argued that Valley Meat wouldn’t be harmed by a delay because it isn’t ready to operate lawfully.
A required wastewater discharge permit hasn’t been issued by the state Environment Department; a hearing officer has recommended against it, but the environment secretary will make the final decision.
Valley Meat has discussed with the Environment Department a “pump and haul” alternative to take the wastewater to another facility, but hasn’t yet applied for permission to do so. Jennifer Pruett, a program manager in the department’s Ground Water Quality Bureau, testified the company has been told there is no certainty the alternative plan would be approved.
William Olson, former chief of that bureau, testified that ground water at the site is “extremely shallow.”
He said Valley Meat’s former violations included operating for three years without a discharge permit, and failing to do required monitoring and reporting. He said the company had racked up 5,700 violations.
Dunn suggested in his cross-examination of Olson that the department dragged its feet in notifying the company its permit had expired and in issuing a new one. And he said each day’s noncompliance counted as a separate violation, inflating the overall number.
Equine veterinarian Randy Parker, who has a clinic near Colorado Springs, testified that he and other veterinarians routinely prescribe drugs for horses – for a variety of ailments – that are not allowed for horses intended as food animals. That’s because there is no scientific research that proves they are safe for human consumption, he said.
Dunn countered that the pollution and drug contamination arguments were speculative. He said the horse meat “certainly wouldn’t be in our grocery stores” because it’s intended to be shipped out of the country.
Dunn also reiterated his arguments that state District Court lacks jurisdiction in the case and that the attorney general only filed the challenge because opponents of the slaughterhouse lost their lawsuit in federal court.