SANTA FE – The resumption of commercial horse slaughter in the United States was blocked Friday when President Barack Obama signed a budget measure that withholds money for required federal inspections of the slaughtering process.
The move blocks the opening anytime soon of a planned Roswell-area horse slaughterhouse, which had already been on hold due to a lawsuit by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King.
Although the budget measure provides temporary funding for the federal government, it blocks the Agriculture Department from spending money for inspections necessary for slaughterhouses to ship horse meat interstate and eventually export it to overseas consumers.
Blair Dunn, a lawyer for Valley Meat Co., near Roswell, said the company will continue to wage a legal fight to convert its cattle processing plant to the slaughtering of horses. He contended that the federal move to withhold money for meat inspections could cause U.S. trade violations.
But, “I don’t see them opening now. No matter what, they are not going to violate the law,” said Dunn, who also represents a plant in Missouri that wants to produce horse meat.
The president’s action came as a New Mexico judge granted a preliminary injunction preventing Valley Meat Co. from moving forward with its plans to start slaughtering horses.
The ruling by state District Judge Matthew Wilson keeps alive the lawsuit by King, who’s seeking to permanently block horse slaughter in New Mexico. The lawsuit could be relevant if the federal government provides inspection funding in the future.
“This clear message from Washington echoes the opinions of an overwhelming number of Americans from coast to coast: Horse slaughter is abhorrent and unacceptable,” said Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Proponents, including Valley Meat Co. owner Rick De Los Santos, argue it is better to slaughter unwanted horses domestically than have them shipped thousands of miles to Canada or to less humane facilities in Mexico.
The last domestic horse slaughterhouses closed in 2007, after Congress initially withheld inspection funding. After federal money was restored in 2011, plants in New Mexico, Missouri and Iowa began trying to start slaughtering horses.
King’s lawsuit contends that the Roswell company’s operations would violate New Mexico’s environmental and food safety laws.
Valley Meat is trying to disqualify Judge Wilson from the case because of comments posted by horse slaughter opponents on a Facebook page for Wilson’s election campaign. Wilson issued an order Friday saying he would consider setting a hearing on the company’s request.