Four months into litigation aimed at preventing horses from being legally slaughtered in the United States, animal law attorney Bruce A. Wagman is already citing Front Range Equine Rescue v. Vilsack as one of the “illustrative representations” of his experience.
Others might just call it a win. M. Christina Armijo, chief U.S. District Court judge for New Mexico, has already granted Wagman’s clients a temporary restraining order in the case. He wants a permanent injunction against USDA inspecting any horse-slaughter facilities in the U.S.
Wagman and Rocky N. Unruh, an expert in complex trials, are San Francisco attorneys from the national Schiff Hardin law firm, which has 400 attorneys based out of Chicago. Among the 15 plaintiffs Wagman and Unruh represent is one definitely large enough to pay their fees, the Humane Society of the United States.
With prestigious offices on L Street in Washington, D.C., and annual revenues that were approaching $200 million when last reported two years ago, HSUS is a nonprofit that can easily keep Wagman and Unruh in its legal stable.
In addition to more than two decades of experience litigating animal law cases, Wagman literally wrote the book on the subject. His “Animal Law: Cases and Materials” is in its fourth edition as a law school textbook.
Wagman’s job this time is to stop three small businesses located in rural areas of Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico that saw an opportunity two years ago when the federal government’s ban on horse slaughter was lifted. All three went through an extensive process in requesting a so-called “grant of inspection” from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
Plaintiffs filed to block that from happening just as USDA decided to provide inspection services to the three businesses, Responsible Transportation in Iowa, Rains Natural Meats in Missouri, and Valley Meats in New Mexico. All three planned to pack horsemeat for export.
That’s when Wagman won the temporary restraining order. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys for the three named defendants in the case — Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen and FSIS Administrator Al Almanza — then suggested speeding up the case by skipping all preliminary arguments.
Wagman and Unruh agreed. For the past six weeks, there’s been a flurry of motions and arguments going back and forth. And while there has been no scheduled or target date announced for Armijo’s ruling on the merits of the case, Wagman seems to be winning the preliminary decisions.
For example, Armijo ruled against the government when USDA sought to have the Declaration of Dr. Daniel L. Engeljohn entered as a supplement to the administrative record. Engeljohn is arguably USDA’s top expert on horse slaughter and was the official directly in charge of the administrative process.
Also, the magistrate judge responsible for processing requests for injunction bonds denied the request of Rains Natural Meats. Valley Meats and Responsible Transportation, which were both included in the original injunction, did require bonds, but Rains was not because it came later.
However, since USDA was enjoined by additional court action from providing inspection services to Rains, that business faces similar jeopardy.
In addition to the plaintiffs represented by the Schiff Hardin attorneys, the State of New Mexico has intervened on their side of the case. Assistant Attorney General Ari Biernoff is representing New Mexico.
DOJ attorneys Alison D. Garner, Andrew A. Smith and Robert G. Dreher are representing USDA. Dreher is the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. for environment and natural resources.
The three business and numerous others have intervened on the government side. The most active attorney among several for those interests is A. Blair Dunn of Albuquerque.
Meanwhile, the law the Oklahoma Legislature passed last May to permit horse slaughter in that state takes effect on Friday, Nov. 1. Under the new law, any horse-slaughter facility would require approval from USDA, and officials say there are no applications in the works at this time.
Source: Food Safety News by Dan Flynn
Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young (R-FL-13), the longest serving Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, passed away on October 18, 2013. His death was due to complications related to a chronic injury.
A member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, Young was a great legislative ally for animals, including horses. In June 2013 he and Rep. Jim Moran introduced an amendment to the FY14 Ag Appropriations bill to defund Horse Slaughter inspections..
In 2014 he also Co-Sponsored the SAFE Act (H.R. 1094) to illegalize horse slaughter in the U.S. and the PAST Act (H.R. 1518) to protect horses from the cruelty of soring.
Young was the only Republican to sign & endorse Rep. Raul Grijalva’s letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, calling for reforms of the Wild Horse Program.
In May 2013, Young was honored for his animal welfare leadership from the Humane Society of the United States. Upon accepting the award Young said, “I am honored to receive this award and will continue to advocate for the protection of animals as I have throughout my career".
There will be a public funeral for Rep. Young on October 24th in Largo, Florida.
An agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) lacks discretion to deny requests to inspect horse slaughter facilities if they meet requirements under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, rendering an environmental review essentially meaningless, government lawyers argue.
Citing the failure of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), animal welfare groups—including Front Range Equine Rescue, Horses for Life Foundation and Humane Society of the United States among others—have sued the agency in federal court.
The lawsuit has at least temporarily thwarted the plans of three facilities in Iowa, Missouri and New Mexico to slaughter horses for human consumption. The controversial practice has infuriated animal rights groups and divided Native American tribes.
In a brief filed last month, Justice Department lawyers argue NEPA doesn't apply to its horse slaughter oversight because FSIS lacks the authority to impose environmental conditions or deny a proposal for inspection on environmental grounds.
Since federal law requires FSIS to grant inspections to facilities that meet eligibility requirements under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, "environmental considerations pursuant to a NEPA analysis could not have changed FSIS' decision," the government lawyers wrote.
The animal rights groups that have sued FSIS vigorously disagree, and a federal judge is leaning in their favor. In temporary restraining orders that enjoin FSIS from dispatching inspectors to the horse slaughter facilities, Chief U.S. District Judge Christine Armijo has found plaintiffs are likely to prevail on their claims. The judge is expected to make her final decision—whether to grant a permanent injunction—by the end of October. A final ruling is likely to be challenged before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
Plaintiffs have challenged FSIS's decisions to grant inspections and a directive that relates to a drug residue testing program for equines. FSIS Directive 6130.1 provides instructions to government personnel on how to inspect horses before and after they are slaughtered, including instructions for drug residue testing.
In the lawsuit, plaintiffs cite a number of environmental hazards associated with horse slaughter facilities before three plants closed six years ago.
"As described in the record, individuals in the vicinity of previous horse slaughter plants were forced to endure a noxious stench, dealt with blood in streams, and sometimes even found blood and horse tissue running through their water faucets," plaintiffs wrote in a brief.
"Whether this will happen again is precisely the question that should be explored in a properly prepared NEPA document."
NEPA typically requires federal agencies to assess the environmental consequences of a proposed action through an "environmental assessment" (EA) and/or a more comprehensive "environmental impact statement" (EIS). FSIS has
conducted neither an EA nor an EIS in connection with the horse slaughter facilities or the agency's drug residue testing program.
NEPA's requirements don't apply to a federal agency if a proposed action will not have a "significant" impact either individually or cumulatively on the human environment. Regulations excuse FSIS from preparing an EA or EIS unless the agency's administrator, Al Almanza, decides "an action may have a significant environmental effect," according to a memo from FSIS that granted federal meat inspection services to Roswell, N.M.-based Valley Meat Company, LLC.
FSIS's action "is purely ministerial" since it must grant federal inspection if a facility has met statutory and regulatory requirements, the agency concluded in the June 27 memo. "A grant of federal inspection likewise does not and will not allow FSIS to exercise sufficient control over the commercial horse slaughter activities at Valley Meat such that the grant will constitute a major federal action that triggers NEPA requirements," the memo declared.
The agency explained it only has authority to regulate a facility to the extent necessary to verify that meat produced for human consumption is properly labeled, packaged and wholesome.
Plaintiffs have expressed fears that the horse slaughter plants are potentially dangerous in part because drugs that are administered to horses are not safe for human consumption and have the potential to contaminate "local ecosystems and water and soil supplies."
Between 1996 and 2006, when FSIS tested horses for drugs before funding for horse inspections was withdrawn, few equines tested positive, according to the agency. But plaintiffs contend FSIS failed to test the animals for many drugs that are commonly administered to horses.
Documents submitted to the federal government have listed 115 drugs and categories of drugs that have been approved for use in horses and have been known to cause problems for humans, according to Bruce Wagman, an attorney representing a number of plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The Attorney General of New Mexico has expressed similar fears, pointing out in a letter to Valley Meat that horse meat containing such dangerous substances as the anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone (PBZ) would be considered "adulterated" in violation of state law.
FSIS has defended the drug testing program, citing a number of safeguards—including random tests of horses after they are slaughtered—that are intended to protect the public from exposure to harmful chemicals and pesticide residues.
State agencies and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigate companies whose meat has tested positive for unpermitted drug residues, and FDA has authority to prosecute a business and take other enforcement action, FSIS pointed out.
Although FSIS has acknowledged it will conduct fewer samples under its new program, the agency said it will analyze them for a larger number of chemical compounds. But plaintiffs gripe the new program "ignores several dozen other substances commonly given to horses that may be harmful to humans."
Source: Food Product Design by Josh Long
Help Make Horse Slaughter Illegal in the United States! Contact Congress in support of the SAFE Act. Passage of the SAFE Act will not only ensure that predatory horse slaughterers cannot reopen their doors here in the U.S.— it will also stop the trafficking of horses to slaughterhouses over American borders. Click Here to Take Action!
Navajo Nation Suspends Horse Round-ups And Forfeits Support For Horse Slaughtering And Horse Slaughtering Facilities
FARMINGTON, N.M. – Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson have reached an agreement in principle in which the Navajo Nation would suspend horse round ups making way to halting the sale of Navajo horses to horse processing plants. The two leaders reached the agreement in a meeting over the weekend.
“We have met with Gov. Richardson and we have come to an agreement to find long term solutions to manage our feral horse issue on the Navajo Nation. We will suspend horse round ups and forfeit support for horse slaughtering and horse slaughtering facilities. We have maintained an all of the above approach to managing our horse population and our land. This approach to manage our resources has included the use of horse round ups and other humane methods with our goal being strengthening our balance between livestock and the land. I am thankful for the input we have received from various groups from within the
Navajo Nation and throughout the United States. We are now using that input in formulating innovative initiatives to address this issue. I have always advocated for strong long-term solutions and partnerships. I believe the MOU will serve as a gateway for more resources to assist our local communities,” President Shelly said.
Gov. Richardson represents the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife, which he founded with actor, director and
conservationist Robert Redford. The foundation is working to stop the slaughter of horses, including actively fighting efforts to reopen horse slaughterhouses in the United States. The foundation is committed to finding humane alternatives to horse slaughter to deal with the nation’s wild horse population and is working with advocacy groups such as Return to Freedom headed by world-renowned horse advocate Neda DeMayo.
“I commend President Shelly for calling for an immediate end to horse roundups and for making it clear that moving
forward the Navajo Nation will not support horse slaughter or the return of horse slaughter facilities,” Governor Richardson said. “This is exactly the outcome horse advocates, such as myself, had hoped for.”
The two leaders agreed to develop a Memorandum of Understanding that would suspend horse round ups on the Navajo Nation while the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife and other horse advocacy groups, including Animal Protection of New Mexico, work with the Navajo Nation to develop and implement alternative policies to manage feral horse populations. Possible solutions that will be explored include equine birth control, adoption, land management and public education.
“I am interested in long-term solutions humane to manage our horse populations. Our land is precious to the Navajo people as are all the horses on the Navajo Nation. Horses are sacred animals to us. I am thankful we can partner with agencies that have resources to help us find real long-term solutions,” President Shelly said.
President Shelly added that the Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources and the Navajo Department of Agriculture will cooperate with Gov. Richardson and the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife.
“I look forward to getting to work partnering with President Shelly and the Navajo Nation to help find and develop policies that are not only humane, but offer long-term solutions to managing the Navajo Nation’s horse population,” Governor Richardson added. “I hope that federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Agriculture, as well as horse advocacy groups will also support our efforts with funding.
The MOU is expected to be signed within two weeks.
Under pressure by animal welfare groups and many of his own people, the president of the Navajo Nation, Ben Shelly, has reversed his stance on horse slaughtering, saying he will no longer support it and will order the temporary suspension of the roundups of feral horses on the reservation.
The agreement, brokered by Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, is scheduled to be announced on Tuesday. One of its key provisions is to pressure the federal government to do more to help the Navajos handle the tens of thousands of horses that roam freely on their land. Mr. Shelly has estimated that feral horses cost the Navajos $200,000 a year in damage to property and range.
“I am interested in long-term humane solutions to manage our horse populations,” Mr. Shelly said. “Our land is precious to the
Navajo people as are all the horses on the Navajo Nation. Horses are sacred animals to us.”
Mr. Shelly’s recalibrated position is sure to strengthen the arguments against horse slaughter in the nation, just as a legal fight to block the opening of horse slaughterhouses in New Mexico and Missouri reaches its final stages. It could also smooth relations between his administration and tribal elders in some of the Navajo Nation’s largest chapters, who have stood steadfastly against the roundups even as Mr. Shelly embraced them in August as the best available option, given the tribe’s limited resources, to keep its feral horse population under control.
At the time, his stance put the country’s largest federally recognized tribe in a collision course with Mr. Richardson and the
actor Robert Redford, who had justified joining a lawsuit against horse slaughtering filed by animal-rights groups by saying they were “standing with Native American leaders.”
In a unanimous vote last month, the Navajo Nation chapter in Shiprock, N.M., banned horse roundups in its territory. The
chapter’s president, Duane Yazzie, said members were concerned about the abandoned colts and the sale of the horses to meat plants in Mexico, where slaughter is legal. On Saturday, several of the chapter’s members protested as Mr. Shelly took part in a parade at the Northern Navajo Nation Fair in Shiprock.
Mr. Shelly and Mr. Richardson met in Farmington, N.M., just outside Navajo lands, shortly after the parade to complete the agreement. It charges several animal welfare groups — including Animal Protection of New Mexico and the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife, founded by Mr. Richardson and Mr. Redford — with developing alternative policies. One option is rounding up the horses and putting them up for adoption; another is dispensing contraceptives.
“This is a huge event,” Mr. Richardson said. “One of the most important and largest tribes in the country is now on the record against horse slaughtering, and that should be a major factor both in Congress and in the courts.”
All along, Mr. Shelly had spoken about the “delicate balance,” as he put it, between the horses’ significance to the Navajos and the cost of repairing the damage caused by feral horses on the reservation, which covers roughly 27,500 square miles across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The Navajos estimate there are 75,000 feral horses roaming the reservation, an estimate based on aerial observations, a method they concede is unreliable. One of the points of the agreement is to find a way to take an accurate count.
During a meeting in Washington last month, Mr. Shelly told several animal welfare groups that the federal government needed to “live up to its responsibilities,” according to his spokesman, Erny Zah, and help the Navajos manage the feral horses. It was not until the agreement with Mr. Richardson, however, that he made his new stance on horse slaughtering official.
The Humane Society of the United States and other groups sued the United States Department of Agriculture in July to keep horse slaughter plants from opening in New Mexico, Iowa and Missouri, arguing that the agency had failed to carry out all of the environmental checks, and asked the courts to block its inspectors from working there. The owners of the plant in Iowa have since scrapped their plans to slaughter horses and turned their focus to cattle.
In August, Judge M. Christina Armijo of United States District Court in Albuquerque halted the inspections until she makes her final ruling on the case, which is expected by the end of the month.
Source: New York Times by Fernanda Santos
>>> Click Here for Press Release from Navajo Nation
At Mesa Verde National Park, wild horses are referred to as "trespass livestock." They have trampled archaeological sites, damaged ice-making machines trying to get to water, and broken through fences meant to keep them out.
But officials at the popular park in southwest Colorado have decided to back off on a plan to manage the approximately 150 horses in the park and on its borders even though allowing the animals to remain poses a conflict with the park's primary mission of preserving archaeological resources.
It's not that Mesa Verde is bowing to horse-advocacy groups who want to see the horses remain as a viable part of the park and even a park attraction: The park doesn't have the manpower or the money to manage them.
"It's a very difficult issue for the park," said Paul Morey, Mesa Verde's wildlife program manager. Wild horses are not classified as wildlife in Mesa Verde and other national parks. They are not given any protective status in parks as they are on Bureau
of Land Management and Forest Service lands under the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971.
Mesa Verde is trying to manage wild horses within the park simply because they are there. They have populated the area since colonial times, and many have come from the neighboring Ute Mountain Ute reservation, which borders more than half of Mesa Verde.
The park announced earlier this year that it was going to develop a management plan to control the horses and invited comment. The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign submitted nine pages of suggestions on how to do that in a way that would preserve a wild herd in the park.
"The National Park Service has a pretty good track record of managing horses," said Suzanne Roy, director of the campaign.
Her organization encouraged Mesa Verde to use birth control on the horses and, if some horses need to be removed, to do it in the most humane way possible. The campaign also urged the park to use more fences to keep the horses from sensitive areas.
The group wants Mesa Verde to treat the animals as an attraction like they have become in other parks, including the Assateague Island National Seashore on the East Coast.
Morey said that is problematic even though some Mesa Verde visitors have come to see the wild horses as an attraction and must be warned that the animals can be dangerous if visitors get too close.
Managing the horses as an attraction, Morey said, "would be a big conflict with our primary mission which is preservation of archaeological resources."Mesa Verde has already strengthened fences around the boundaries of the park. Morey said horses still come in and out of the park from reservation lands through rugged places where there is no fence.
Because water is so scarce in the arid park, the horses come around tourist facilities and damage water lines and ice machines trying to get at a water source. Morey said horses ran through a weather station, tearing up wires. They have collided with vehicles. And they have compacted ground over unexcavated archaeological sites.
Morey said in the face of having to drop formal management plans, the park will continue to try to strengthen boundary fences and to use fencing to keep horses away from water sources. The latter will serve as a sort of management tool: Lack of water will force the horses to go elsewhere, and when horses are under stress from too little food or water, they are less fertile.
Source: Denver Post by Nancy Lofholm