State District Judge Matthew Wilson heard seven hours of testimony and bitter argument, but then delayed until Friday a ruling on whether a horse-slaughter plant should be barred from opening. Emotions ran high Monday, January 13th, in Wilson’s Santa Fe courtroom, and he even threatened to hold the slaughterhouse’s attorney in contempt of court for an outburst during the final moments of the hearing.
Blair Dunn, the 6-foot-9 lawyer who represents the Roswell-area Valley Meat Co., slammed his hand on a table while his opponent from the state attorney general’s staff was making a rebuttal argument.
A brief silence held the courtroom before Wilson spoke. He told Dunn that a brazen show of disrespect was no way to make an objection. “Explain to me why I shouldn’t hold you in contempt,” the judge said to Dunn.
Dunn apologized. Wilson then let the confrontation die without punishing Dunn.
Dunn could not hide his frustration after a day on which he got nowhere on three of his key arguments. He said Wilson had no jurisdiction to even hear the case, but the judge accepted testimony while promising to later decide whether he had any authority to block the plant’s opening.
State Attorney General Gary King, a Democrat running for governor, sued Valley Meat Co. on those claims. Dunn has accused King of grandstanding for political gain.
Valley Meat last month had just won a federal court case challenging its operation and was negotiating details of a sewage-discharge permit with the state Environment Department, Dunn said. But King then sued the company in state District Court, a venue Dunn says has no authority to intervene on the company’s permits or business plan.
Ari Biernoff, one of King’s assistants, argued to Wilson that the attorney general had to fight the company because it poses a threat to the public. Biernoff said this case was similar to a retail business that suddenly decides it can sell medical marijuana. The attorney general cannot sit back and allow a business to do anything it likes when public safety is at stake, Biernoff said.
King’s legal team called a veterinarian and a former bureau chief for the Environment Department to try to make the case that the Valley Meat Co. is dangerous. The company proposes to slaughter up to 121 horses a day and sell the meat to stores and restaurants in international markets. Randy Parker, a veterinarian from the Colorado Springs area, was hired by King’s office to testify that horse slaughter could mar the food chain. Parker said horses often receive drugs that are not safe for human consumption.
“I wouldn’t eat horse meat,” Parker said.
But on cross-examination by Dunn, Parker admitted that he ate beef, even though cattle may receive some of the same drugs that can be used to treat horses when they get sick. Wilson, over Dunn’s objection, said he regarded the veterinarian as an expert witness.
Another state witness was William Olson, who formerly worked for the Environment Department. He said Valley Meat Co. was a bad corporate citizen, once operating a cattle-slaughter plant for three years without a valid sewage permit.
Dunn countered with a series of witnesses who testified in favor of the horse-slaughter plant. One was Jack King of the Environment Department’s health bureau. He said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has the sole authority to inspect meat-processing plants.
James Duffey, a Chaves County commissioner, appeared as an unpaid witness for Valley Meat Co. He said he lives perhaps a mile from the horse-slaughter plant and would welcome it as a neighbor if it met all requirements of the USDA and state Environment Department. “It’s providing jobs in our community and revenue to our community,” Duffey said. Benny House, the Otero County sheriff, also testified for the company. He said the number of abandoned horses in his area is escalating.
One of Dunn’s broad arguments for the plant is that the number of wild horses in America has increased since horse slaughter was halted seven years ago. Congress in 2007 stopped funding inspections for horse-slaughter plants.
In turn, Dunn said, businesses began exporting hundreds of thousands of horses to Mexico and Canada, where they die after long, painful trips to foreign slaughterhouses.
Source: The Santa Fe New Mexican by Milan Simonich
Contact Milan Simonich at 986-3080 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @milansnmreport.
A New Mexico hearings officer says the state should deny a wastewater discharge permit for Valley Meat in Roswell, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources says it will get back to Rains Natural Meats in Gallatin once it decides if horses are livestock.
These state regulatory barriers now face the two companies planning to slaughter horses after the Dec. 13 decision from the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver gave USDA permission to provide equine inspections for the two businesses.
The professional water quality staff in the New Mexico Department of the Environment wanted to give a water discharge permit to Valley Meat, but the hearing officer assigned to hear the case, Felicia Orth, recommended that the application be denied due to the company’s previous environmental violations when it was a cattle slaughterhouse.
Valley’s past history, Orth stated, shows a “willful disregard” of New Mexico’s water quality provisions, a question of law and fact that justifies denial. Her recommendation, along with the 49-page decision, now goes to Ryan Flynn, New Mexico’s Secretary of the Environment.
Blair Dunn, attorney for both Valley Meat and Rains Natural Meats, said the Roswell facility requires either a discharge permit for up to 8,000 gallons a day into underground holding tanks, or else it will have to rely on a pump and haul operation, which apparently does not require a permit.
Dunn has 15 days to file a response to the hearing officer’s decision, and Flynn then has 30 days after that to make his decision.
In Missouri, where top state officials claim to be staying out of regulatory decisions, the state DNR says it has to decide if horses are included in the permit it already issued to Rains to slaughter livestock. Dunn says horses have long been deemed livestock under Missouri’s laws and regulation.
A spokesman for Gov. Jay Nixon says the governor’s office is not involved in the decision-making.
Finally, in the ongoing legal action involving possible horse slaughter, the Santa Fe District Court’s family law judge will entertain oral arguments on Monday on whether to continue a restraining order against Valley’s operation until a civil suit brought by Attorney General Gary King plays out.
Both Valley and Rains want to produce horsemeat for human consumption, but only for export. An estimated 158,000 U.S. horses were slaughtered in Mexico and Canada in 2012. No USDA-inspected horse slaughter has occurred in the U.S. since 2007, but the practice could resume under existing USDA budget authority.
Source: Food Safety News by Dan Flynn
January 8, 2014
(Albuquerque, NM) – Candidate for Governor Gary King today called on Governor Martinez to take immediate steps to block the proposed horse slaughterhouse in Roswell by directing her Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) to take into serious consideration the opinion of the state environmental hearing officer who yesterday recommended that the operational permits to the Valley Meat company be denied.
“By waiting to block the permits, Governor Martinez has not only endangered these majestic horses, she is wasting thousands of taxpayer dollars. She could end this highly controversial project now by instructing her cabinet Secretary in charge of granting or denying a permit to the Valley Meat company to consider the strong evidence against this project,” said King.
“Horse slaughter is wrong. Human consumption of horse meat that may contain drugs could be dangerous. Discharging thousands of gallons of waste every day from an industrial horse slaughter operation would harm the environment,” said King. “Governor Martinez could have taken action long ago to address this controversy. This isn’t about politics – it’s about the humane treatment of horses and good stewardship. The only question is whether she will finally make the right decision. ”
“I am grateful to the many thousands of people from within New Mexico and around the country who have signed my petition, asking Gov. Martinez to stop the horse slaughterhouse. While the state court will hopefully make the right decision, this has gone on too long,” King added.
Source: Gary King for Governor