Source: The Associated Press by Susan Montya Bryan
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—A federal magistrate on Thursday ordered animal rights groups that won a temporary ban on domestic horse slaughter to post a bond of nearly $500,000 as they continue their legal fight. U.S. Magistrate Robert Scott settled on the amount after hearing from attorneys who represent two companies that had planned to begin operations this week at slaughterhouses in New Mexico and Iowa.
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
The animal rights groups argue that the agency failed to do the proper environmental studies before issuing the permits. Robert Redford, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, current New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and New Mexico Attorney General Gary King are among those who oppose a return to domestic horse slaughter, citing the horse's iconic role as a companion animal in the West.
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.
Source: The Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A federal judge temporarily halted plans by companies in New Mexico and Iowa to start slaughtering horses next week.
U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo issued a restraining order in a lawsuit brought by The Humane Society of the United States and other groups in a case that has sparked an emotional national debate about how best to deal with the tens of thousands of wild, unwanted and abandoned horses across the country. The move stops what would have been the resumption of horse slaughter for the first time in seven years in the U.S.
Plaintiffs' lawyer Bruce Wagman, said his clients were overjoyed with the ruling and had been "extremely distressed that horse slaughter was going to start up again in America." The groups contend the Department of Agriculture failed to do the proper environmental studies before issuing permits that allowed companies in Iowa and New Mexico to open horse slaughterhouses.
The companies had said they wanted to open as soon as Monday. The horse meat would be exported for human consumption and for use as zoo and other animal food.
Armijo also scheduled a hearing Monday's to determine how much money plaintiffs in the case would have to put up in advance to cover economic losses to the companies if they lose the lawsuit.
Blair Dunn, who represents Valley Meat Co., said he will ask for $10 million to be set aside. Pat Rogers, an attorney for Responsible Transportation, said his clients borrowed $1.5 million to begin the operation, with another $1.4 million from
investors. "It's a small company in a small town. That's going to have significant economic impact," Rogers said.
Earlier in the day, he argued his clients started the company to fill a need. Currently, he said, old and unwanted horses have to be shipped thousands of miles in sometimes inhumane conditions to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico.
"The truth is, your honor, there is no old horses home," Rogers told the judge. "There is no Medicare for horses."
Wagman, however, argued the slaughterhouses should be forced to undergo public review under provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act. He told the court no environmental impact study has ever been done to examine the effects of horse slaughter. Horses are given more than 100 drugs not approved for other feed animals, he said.
"The government is about to embark on a brand-new multi-state program," he said. "We just don't know about the dangers that lie ahead."
The move has divided horse rescue and animal welfare groups, ranchers, politicians and Indian tribes about what is the most
humane way to deal with the country's horse overpopulation.
While some tribes are opposed to horse slaughter, citing the animals' sacred place in their culture, the Navajo and Yakama nations, are among those who are pushing to let the companies open. They say the exploding horse populations on their reservations are trampling and overgrazing rangelands, decimating forage resources for cattle and causing
widespread environmental damage.
The Navajo Nation, the nation's largest Indian reservation, estimates there are 75,000 horses on its land, many of which are dehydrated and starving after years of drought.
"The only actual evidence of environmental impact is ours," said Yakama Nation attorney John Boyd, who filed a statement from the tribe's biologist about the damage from more than 12,000 wild horses on the reservation. "And it's a catastrophe that
can be largely or significantly ameliorated" by making it easier for the tribe to round up the animals to slaughter.
On the other side, actor Robert Redford, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, current New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and New Mexico Attorney General Gary King are among those who strongly oppose a return to domestic horse slaughter, citing the horse's iconic role as a companion animal in the West.
Rains Natural Meats hopes to turn their facility into a horse slaughterhouse.
GALLATIN, Mo. — A Daviess County man who wants to begin slaughtering and processing horse meat awaits a court hearing today could further delay his business attempt. David Rains has already modified the plant just east of Gallatin, Mo., to accept horses rather than the beef, pork, elk, bison and venison that Rains Natural Meats previously processed. Mr. Rains offered the News-Press an exclusive tour of the facility earlier this week.
The federal hearing in Albuquerque, N.M., pertains to a lawsuit filed by The Humane Society of the United States and other groups against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with Rains as one of the parties. The suit alleges that environmental reviews were not conducted regarding a New Mexico-issued permit to slaughter horses. The society is leading efforts to prevent a resumption to horse slaughtering that was banned by Congress seven years ago.
Rains Natural Meats first opened in 1998 to process antibiotic- and hormone-free organic products, but closed last year after Mr. Rains’ brother, Steve, underwent knee replacements. A bid to sell the business ended once prospects opened for a joint venture. “Then we made connections with the horse people,” he said, referring to a partnership with Chevaline, a Wyoming equine firm that would provide marketing assistance. “If you do horses, you can’t do anything else.”
Feral horses rounded up from Western states would supply the business. Mr. Rains said the switch has caused him to have pigs butchered elsewhere. Department regulations also restrict horse meat from being stored in the same freezer with other meat products, he said.
Rather than using a captive bolt-stunning gun before slaughter, Mr. Rains said he would use .410- caliber slugs as the primary
means to kill the horses — with .22-caliber Magnum cartridges as a secondary method. Once placed into a padded chute, Mr. Rains said a light would switch on to blind the horse in a USDA-recommended measure. All holding pens have been covered in plywood to reduce the odds of horses escaping through a gate.
The number of horses the facility could handle is undetermined. “We honest to goodness don’t know,” Mr. Rains said. “We could maybe do 10 a day. Right now we’re thinking 30 a week.” For now, the company remains idle, due to the inability to cross species in its meat processing. Depending on developments, it’s conceivable that Rains Natural Meats could choose a return to its previous processing.
“I’ve had people lined up to work,” he said. “All I’ve got to do is call them. The market’s there ... We’ve got to survive on a niche.” The horse meat would be available to domestic and international markets for pet and human food. Assisting regional and global hunger relief programs is another motivation.
“We actually have zoos that are interested in doing samples,” Mr. Rains said.
Horsemeat, he said, is higher in protein, lower in fat and higher in good Omega-3 fatty acids. Some Americans will choose to eat horse meat, he added, although its consumption is more widespread in Europe and Asia.
A Missouri Department of Natural Resources lagoon permit must also be renewed, in line with the procedures that the New
Mexico plant and another in Iowa must follow. Every horse would be tested for drug residue at a University of Missouri lab and USDA officials also would perform random testing for animal pharmaceuticals, with the rejections discarded.
The horses would come through certified buyers of the International Equine Business Association. The Native American tribes of Navajo, Hopi and Yakama also have joined the lawsuit in hopes of resolving excessive feral horse populations on their lands in New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
Processing horse meat could start in two weeks, pending the government actions, Mr. Rains said. Amanda Good, the Humane Society’s Missouri director, said there are several reasons the organization opposes horse slaughtering. “Missouri can expect protests, negative press and trucks full of suffering horses being hauled into our state, risking accidents and injuries to motorists on our highways,” she said of one example.