coalition urges congress to reject the "path forward" 10 years to aml plan for wild horses and burros
Today, a broad coalition of stakeholders, organizations, and businesses sent a letter to the U.S. Congress in strong opposition to a dangerous and unworkable proposal that threatens our iconic American wild horses. The "Path Forward" 10 Years to AML proposal, a brainchild of The HSUS, ASPCA and Return to Freedom, working in concert with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and American Farm Bureau Federation, calls for the removal of at least 45,000 to 60,000 and potentially as many as 200,000 wild horses and burros from our federal lands over the next ten years, putting the horses at significant risk of slaughter and placing a burden on taxpayers for an outcome that is widely opposed by the public.
“This is terrible deal for wild horses. The unfunded 'plan' will put tens of thousands more wild horses in government holding, with their fate left to the whims of future appropriators,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director at the American Wild Horse Campaign. “Make no mistake: this could result in the eventual slaughter of tens of thousands of wild horses. The cattlemen’s lobby is the only winner, achieving the near extinction-level population of wild horses they have long sought."
“This ill-considered plan would remove tens of thousands of our iconic American wild horses from the range at a billion-dollar price-tag to the taxpayer over a decade,” said Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action. “The biggest beneficiary of this plan would not be horses, but the livestock industry, which will see the federal government remove wild horses so that more cattle can graze on our public lands.”
"In its current form, this plan would be disastrous for our wild herds,” said Ginger Kathrens, founder and executive director of The Cloud Foundation. “It provides for no meaningful accountability on the part of BLM to implement humane and reversible fertility control measures. This plan gives BLM the mandate it has always wanted to round up more than 50,000 of our wild horses, doubling the number in off-range holding at enormous cost to the American taxpayer. We fear that unless funds are allocated to support those horses in holding for the rest of their natural lives, we will eventually see them sold killed in slaughterhouses. Meanwhile, our wild herds will be even more decimated, suffering deterioration in health due to poor genetic variability. Bottom line, wild horses and burros will eventually disappear from the West altogether. We suspect this is exactly what some of the stakeholders presenting this plan want."
Rounding up horses and burros is a highly stressful and dangerous experience for these animals. Injuries and deaths are not uncommon, and many horses will be separated from their families. The plan places wild horses and burros at significant risk of slaughter. The proposal significantly increases the number of captive horses at federally run and financed facilities and will create a future fiscal crisis. If history repeats itself, this increase will provoke pro-slaughter lawmakers to call for mass slaughter and euthanasia as a matter of fiscal responsibility.
As a humane and responsible alternative, stakeholders are instead calling for a step up in BLM-conducted fertility control programs, which allows horses to be managed humanely on the range. Proposed by U.S. Reps. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), fertility control will eliminate the need for mass roundups and removals and spare taxpayers the need to finance long-term care, feeding, and leasing of land.
Nearly 50 signors, including wild horse advocacy organizations, horse rescues, animal protection organizations, and horse-related businesses across the nation have banded together to defeat this egregious measure, urging legislators to reject the dangerous proposal:
It’s official. The controversial horse slaughterhouse in New Mexico will not be opening. “I think it’s just time to stop and see what will happen now,” said Valley Meat Owner Rick De Los Santos.
For almost four years, De Los Santos has been trying to slaughter horses for food. He’s faced court battles from animal rights groups and the Attorney General along with federal push back. Earlier this year the President signed a bill to stop funding horse slaughterhouse inspections until 2016.
Friday, De Le Santos told KRQE News 13 the fight is over. “It really is at this point at the end of that business in Roswell by them,” said Valley Meat Attorney A. Blair Dunn. On Thursday, Dunn submitted a letter to the New Mexico Environmental Department withdrawing the plant’s application for a ground water discharge permit.
The permit, which would allow the plant to discharge animal waste, is a must for the plant to operate. Blair claims the department strung them along for seven months, never saying no the permit, but never saying yes either.
“They’ve been telling us well we need a 30-day extension, we need 45 days, we need 60, we cant make a decision right now,” said De Los Santos.
The letter states the inability of the Secretary to make a decision has contributed to the destruction of Valley Meat’s lawful business. Valley Meet also claims the Attorney General’s office played a big role in the slaughterhouse closure and Dunn says there’s a good chance they’ll sue the state because of it.
Animal activists say they’re happy the horse slaughter fight is ending. “It’s great news for New Mexico,” said Laura Bonar with Animal Protection of New Mexico. “Horse slaughter is cruel, horse slaughter is dangerous and horse slaughter is not supported by Americans.”
Source: KRQE, by Emily Younger
Click here to read Valley Meat's Notice of Withdrawal of Application to the New Mexico Environmental Department.
SANTA FE, N.M.—A request by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King to prevent a horse slaughter plant from opening is "nothing more than political grandstanding" by an official who is seeking to become the next governor of the Land of Enchantment, A. Blair Dunn, an attorney representing Valley Meat Co. LLC, wrote in court papers.
King, who is running for governor in 2014, has moved in state court to prevent Valley Meat from opening a facility that intends to process horses for human consumption in Asia and Europe.
Matthew Wilson, a state judge who normally hears family law matters, barred the business from opening under a temporary restraining order. A hearing is scheduled for today, Jan. 3 at 1 p.m. on whether the order should be extended.
On Dec. 19, King filed a lawsuit in the First Judicial District against Valley Meat, its owner Ricardo De Los Santos and two related companies, Dairyland Packing, Inc., and Mountain View Packing LLC. (Click Here to view filing)
The complaint was filed because Valley Meat said it planned to operate without the required regulatory approval, according to King's office in a news release.
Valley Meat has been accused of repeatedly violating environmental requirements and federal food-safety laws, including dumping "the remains of hundreds of dead and/or slaughtered animals on the grounds of the Slaughterhouse, in what became massive piles of rotting flesh and bones."
Dunn, Valley Meat's attorney, denies that Valley Meat intends to operate unlawfully. The business has been working with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) for authority to discharge wastewater into another entity's facility while its application for a renewal of its own groundwater discharge permit remains pending, he said in a phone interview with Food Product Design.
NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn will determine whether to issue a water discharge permit to Valley Meat, although a decision is not expected until at least February, NMED spokesman Jim Winchester said, adding that NMED has not received an application from Valley Meat for a separate "pump and haul permit".
King's lawsuit characterizes Valley Meat's plan as an attempt to circumvent regulations
by discharging wastewater to underground permeable tanks, potentially exposing the groundwater to contaminants. The business cannot lawfully discharge wastewater without an NMED-issued permit, the lawsuit contends.
In court papers, Dunn argues Wilson lacks authority to hear King's lawsuit because claims based on the Water Quality Improvement Act (WQA) are under the jurisdiction of the Water Quality Control Commission (WCQQ).
"And a party or agency dissatisfied with the decision of the WQCC may only appeal the decision to the New Mexico Court of Appeals," Dunn wrote. "The New Mexico Legislature has made it abundantly clear that jurisdiction over these issues rests only with the WQCC and the Court of Appeals, nowhere in statute or precedential case law does a District Court achieve subject matter jurisdiction over issues of compliance or alleged anticipated violations of the WQA."In a letter to a state senator, the New Mexico Attorney General's Office previously raised concerns that horses destined for the slaughterhouse might have been treated with drugs that are harmful to humans, rendering the meat adulterated in violation of state and federal laws.
Opponents of horse slaughter, ranging from animal rights groups to King, maintain the practice is inhumane and poses food-safety risks.
"Commercial horse slaughter is a new, untested enterprise that poses health and environmental risks to New Mexicans. Horses in America are not raised to be eaten, and are widely administered drugs that are forbidden for use in food animals," King's office stated in the Dec. 31, 2013, news release.
The state lawsuit alleges Valley Meat's operation would violate the New Mexico Food Act, New Mexico Unfair Practices Act and the WQA and regulations as well as constitute a public nuisance.
In a response filed with the court, Dunn challenged King's conclusions that horse meat is unsafe and declared that even if such meat was adulterated, it would fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). "This court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over issues which fall squarely in purview of federal law under the FMIA [Federal Meat Inspection Act] and not under state law," Dunn wrote.
A lawsuit challenging horse slaughter in federal court was dismissed on Nov. 1, 2013. Plaintiffs had argued that USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by issuing grants of inspection and adopting a related equine directive. Christina Armijo, U.S. District Judge, agreed with FSIS that NEPA didn't apply to its granting of inspections because the agency's actions were not discretionary.
The case was appealed and a temporary restraining order (TRO) was initially granted, further delaying Valley Meat's plans. In a ruling last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit lifted the TRO, holding that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Front Range Equine Rescue and other groups challenging horse slaughter failed to meet their burden of proof for an injunction.
Circuit Judges Gregory Phillips and David Ebel found the plaintiffs are not likely to succeed on their appeal and cited a lack of evidence that they would "suffer irreparable harm" if FSIS allows the plants to begin slaughtering horses.
"Reliance upon environmental damage arising out of previous, unrelated, and limited instances of equine slaughter is too speculative and does not show a significant risk to establish irreparable harm," the judges wrote in the Dec. 13, 2013, order.
Plans to Process Horse Meat
Dunn said Valley Meat plans to process 120 horses each day for human consumption mostly in China, Japan, Russia and Europe. American horses already are slaughtered today in Canada and Mexico and being shipped to those countries, he said.
According to court documents, Valley Meat will yield a profit of $180 per animal, or $435,000 in one month, based on the slaughtering of 2,420 horses.
Dunn also represents another company that intends to slaughter horses, Rains Natural Meats in Gallatin, Dunn said Rains is seeking a wastewater discharge permit from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and a hearing is scheduled for Jan. 20 on whether horses should be excluded from the permit. Although the agency issued a permit that excluded horses, Dunn argued horses have always been considered livestock under Missouri law. (A spokesperson for the state DRN did not return a phone call).
Rains, which previously processed cattle, goats, sheep and ostriches, plans to sell process for human consumption in the United States if it is able to secure a permit for horse slaughter, it, Dunn said. Rains' owner, David Rains, is currently driving a school bus, he said.
"They have a market for it here for people who want it [horse meat]," Dunn said. "They have been ready to go for a year as well absent these new hurdles that keep" occurring.
Responsible Transportation LLC is another business that applied for a horse slaughter permit. The Iowa-based firm reportedly converted to a beef operation last year. When asked if Responsible Transportation plans to convert to a horse slaughter plant if it can overcome legal hurdles, Pat Rogers, a New Mexico lawyer representing the business in the federal litigation, said he wasn't sure of its plans and referred the question to Responsible Transportation's CEO Keaton Walker, who did not return a phone call seeking comment.
In 2011, Walker and two other University of Iowa graduates raised $1.5 million from 22 local investors to start up an equine-processing facility, according to a July 19, 2013, affidavit from Walker that was filed with the federal trial and appeals courts. Late in 2012, the company purchased a vacant meat processing plant in Sigourney, Iowa, for $650,000 and subsequently invested more than $1 million to renovate the facility.
According to Walker's affidavit, Responsible Transportation and the founders have invested roughly $2.9 million over three years to open the plant and meet state and federal requirements. Walker wrote in his affidavit that Responsible Transportation was bleeding $60,000 a month in overhead expenses with no revenues.
Source: Food Product Design by Josh Long
A federal appeals court on Friday removed a temporary ban on domestic horse slaughter, clearing the way for companies in New Mexico, Missouri and Iowa to open while an appeal of a lawsuit by animal protection groups proceeds.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver lifted the emergency injunction it issued in November after The Humane Society of the United States and others appealed the ruling of a federal judge in Albuquerque. The judge said the U.S. Department of Agriculture followed proper procedure in issuing permits to Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, N.M., Rains Natural Meats of Gallatin, Mo., and Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, Iowa.
The appeals court's order Friday said the groups had "failed to meet their burden for an injunction pending appeal." Click Here to view court ruling.
Blair Dunn, an attorney for Valley Meat and Rains Natural Meats, said the order lifts the emergency status of the case, meaning it will likely be months before a final decision is issued. Dunn said the plants are ready to open, although they could agree to remain shuttered if the plaintiffs agree to post a sufficient bond to cover the companies' losses should they ultimately prevail.
"They are getting ready to go as quickly as they can. It shouldn't take too long. Not more than two weeks," he said. The Humane Society, however, said "the fight for America's horses is not over."
"We will press for a quick resolution of the merits of our claims in the 10th Circuit," said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, the group's senior vice president of animal protection litigation and investigations.
The plants would become the first horse slaughterhouses to operate in the U.S. since 2007. Congress effectively banned horse slaughter by eliminating funding for inspections at the plants in 2006. It restored that funding in 2011, but the USDA did not approve the first permits for horse slaughterhouses until this summer.
The issue 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, and what rescue groups have said are a rising number of neglected and starving horses as the West deals with persistent drought.
Valley Meat and Responsible Transportation were set to begin horse slaughter operations in August, but U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo blocked their plans while she heard the lawsuit by The Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue and others. The groups claimed the plants should have been forced to undergo environmental reviews under provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act.
Responsible Transportation abandoned its horse slaughter plans and converted its plant to cattle before Armijo dismissed the lawsuit in November.
Attorneys for the plants have argued that the plaintiffs are simply in court because they are morally opposed to horse slaughter and are looking for a way to delay the plants while they lobby Congress for a ban.
Proponents of a return to domestic horse slaughter point to a 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office that shows horse abuse and abandonment have increased since domestic horse slaughter was banned. They say it is better to slaughter the animals in humane, federally regulated facilities than have them abandoned to starve across the drought-stricken West or shipped to inhumane facilities in Mexico.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, calls the practice barbaric and has said blocking a return to domestic horse "is an issue of national importance and scale."
Source: The Associated Press by Jeri Clausing
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 across American borders. Click Here to Take Action!
The U.S. Department of Agriculture should be able to dispatch inspectors to
meat processing facilities in Iowa, Missouri and New Mexico that would allow them to begin to slaughter horses for meat for the first time since Congress ended a four-year ban on the practice in 2011, the Justice Department argued in a court filing Thursday.
U.S. government lawyers asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit to lift a temporary injunction it imposed Monday at the request of animal welfare activists who contend that horse slaughtering poses potential environmental and health risks that the federal government has not adequately considered.
The litigation, pursued by the Humane Society of the United States as well as a Colorado group, Fort Range Equine Rescue, contends that the horses are more likely to have dangerous drug contamination than other types of animals and that the contamination could be released in both meat and groundwater.
A U.S. District Court judge ruled against the opponents last week, clearing the way for the facilities to begin slaughtering horses. But the 10th Circuit temporarily blocked the slaughter again Monday in order to consider whether it should or should not be allowed to go forward as the activists appeal.
"Front Range paints a gory picture of 'horse blood in their faucets' and a 'meat supply [that] has been contaminated by adulterated horse flesh'...but fails to present any scientific evidence of contamination in local waters or in other meat products or any reasonable expectation that such contamination will occur," the brief filed by DOJ's environmental lawyers says.
"FSIS [the Food Safety and Inspection Service] has set forth detailed regulations and directives for the inspection, testing, handling and labeling of livestock, including equines. At bottom, Front Range's argument is that slaughtered horses might be contaminated, that this contamination might reach nearby waters, and that this contamination might enter those unidentified lakes and streams at which Front Range's members might be recreating. These attenuated, speculative allegations of harm are insufficient to establish irreparable injury," the Justice Department lawyers argue in their filing (Click Here to view doc).
The companies affected by the injunction filed their own brief Thursday (Click Here to view doc). They called the litigation a "manufactured charade" and asking the appeals court to lift the temporary ban which they said could drive them into "insolvency" if continued.
"For this Court to find that appellant’s face a threat of irreparable harm, the court must turn a blind eye to the science that contradicts their assertion that all horses going to processing represent a toxic dangerous source pollution to the environment. Frankly, to find such an assertion to be credible, the court would have to ignore the very manure that issues from these animals which would undoubtedly have to contain the same toxic substances with absolutely no regulation as it enters the natural environment," the companies' lawyer A. Blair Dunn wrote.
Source: Politico, by Josh Gerstein
USDA is not required to conduct an Environmental impact Statement or Environmental Assessment in order to grant equine inspection services to businesses planning to pack horsemeat for export, U.S. District Court Judge Christina Armijo ruled Friday.
The judge denied the request by animal groups for a permanent injunction and dismissed the case challenging USDA’s authority. The decision is a massive loss for the Humane Society of the U.S., which largely funded the lawsuit and enlisted 15 other groups and individuals to join it as plaintiffs.
And it was a defining victory for the Department of Justice attorneys who re-affirmed USDA powers contained in the Federal Meat Inspection Act that go back more than 100 years. It means horse slaughter for human consumption could resume shortly under USDA inspection for the first time since 2006.
“Valley Meat Company, LLC and Rains Natural Meats are both very please with the decision of Judge Armijo, sai Albuquerque attorney A. Blair Dunn. “This is a very well reasoned and through opinion. Valley and Rains are very grateful for the hard work and thought that Judge Armijo put into this decision. Both companies will now focus on final preparations to open and begin work.”
Both Valley Meats and Rains Natural Meats, along with Iowa’s Responsible Transportation, obtained grants of inspection from USDA. The two businesses Dunn represents are now going forward with their plans, while the Iowa firm’s intention now are
Armijo, the chief federal judge in New Mexico, sided with USDA’s historic interpretation of its governing law, namely that it has
little or no discretion over whether to issue a grant of inspection. Instead, she ruled USDA has a duty to inspect meat and meat products even of the unpopular equine variety.
At one time, she noted, the Secretary of Agriculture was given the “discretion” to provide inspectors, but Congress
changed that to “the Secretary shall provide such inspectors.” Click Here to view court ruling document.
Since the horse and animal welfare groups sued USDA four months ago, nationally known animal law attorney Bruce A. Wagman argued inspection decisions fell under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Policy Act (APA). But the federal court found these only apply to discretionary agency actions, not to those mandated by law.
Other federal laws and rules enforced by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) also apply to horse slaughter houses, including requirements for hazard and sanitation plans, humane animal handling and proper sanitary conditions. The three equine packing houses had met those requirements as part of the USDA grant of inspection process.
While horsemeat is a source of protein for consumers in Asia and Europe, no issue involving animal agriculture stirs emotions more in the U.S than does horse slaughter.
Through a spokesman, the HSUS is promising to “not only appeal the decision but also to work with the states to block the plants from opening in Iowa, Missouri and New Mexico and step up efforts in Congress to stop the slaughter of American horses—in the states and also in Canada and Mexico.”
“Our legislative and legal activities have prevented horse slaughtering on American soil since 2007, “ added Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO. “ With today’s court ruling and the very real prospect of plants resuming barbaric killing of horses for their meat in the states, we expect the American public to recognize the urgency of the situation and to demand that Congress take action. Court fights and state legislative battles have been important, but this is an issue of national importance and scale, and Congress should have an up-or-down vote on the subject.”
In the now dismissed case, both sides agreed to allow the judge to hear it on an expedited basis. An appeal would likely go to the 10th Circuit in Denver.
Source: Food Safety News by Dan Flynn
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!
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
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!
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
In response to the emergency motion filed on September 19, 2013, Federal Judge Christina Armijo has suspended Horse Slaughter operations at Rains Natural Meats until October 4, 2013.
Judge Armijo furthered ordered that this matter be referred to the Honorable Robert H.Scott for an evidentiary hearing to determine if her order should be extended beyond October 4th.
Judge Scott will also be ruling on the request from Rains Natural Meats to be included on the bond, which he granted to Valley Meats and Responsible Transportation on August 8, 2013. Our attorneys continue to contest this bond, as this case is against the federal government (USDA) and its permitting process, not the companies that were recently given permission to begin slaughtering horses.