The attorneys argued that the delay could be "devastating," costing their clients more than $1.5 million in lost revenues in just one month. The case could drag on for months and the losses could reach tens of millions of dollars, they said.
"The bond requires the plaintiffs to put their money where their mouth is. There are real-life consequences to these actions and we're appreciative of the judge recognizing that," said lawyer Pat Rogers, who represents Responsible Transportation, a company formed by three young men who have collected nearly $3 million from family, friends and other investors to open a plant in the town of Sigourney, Iowa.
The case has sparked an emotional debate about how best to deal with the tens of thousands of wild, unwanted and abandoned horses across the country as drought conditions and the lack of feed in many states continue to exacerbate
the problem. The Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue, Horses For Life Foundation, Return to Freedom, The Marin Humane Society and others won a temporary restraining order last week that blocked Responsible Transportation and Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, N.M., from opening their plants.
The bond covers the companies' costs and lost profits for the next 30 days should the animal rights groups lose the case. Within that time, another hearing is planned in federal court to determine the fate of the temporary ban. Attorneys for the animal rights groups argued Thursday that the losses estimated by the companies were highly speculative and the result of creative
Attorneys for the slaughterhouses disputed those claims. Blair Dunn, who represents Valley Meat, said the Roswell plant was ready to begin operations last Monday and slaughter about 120 horses a day at $350 a head. The losses will be significant, he said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture in June gave Valley Meat the go-ahead to begin slaughtering horses. USDA officials said they were legally obligated to issue the permit, even though the Obama administration opposes horse slaughter and is seeking to reinstate a congressional ban that was lifted in 2011. Another permit was approved a few days later for Responsible Transportation.
But some ranchers' groups and the National Congress of American Indians, an organization that represents tribes across the country, argue that overgrazing by feral horses has caused serious environmental and ecological damage.
Supporters also say it is better to slaughter the horses in regulated and humane domestic facilities than to let them starve or be shipped to other countries for slaughter. They point to a 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office that shows cases of horse abuse and abandonment on a steady rise since Congress effectively banned horse slaughter by cutting
funding for USDA inspection programs in 2006.