Today, President Obama signed into law an omnibus $1.1 trillion, 1,582-page spending bill that contains some very good news for horses and those of us who love them.
Most immediately, the Act ensures that horses will not be slaughtered for human consumption in this country for the time being—restoring a ban on using any Federal dollars to inspect horse slaughter facilities. Without those government inspections, slaughterhouses are not legally able to comply with Federal Meat Inspection Act standards.
Although no horse has been legally slaughtered for food on U.S. soil since the remaining plants were finally shut down in 2007, last year three facilities in New Mexico, Iowa & Missouri were granted permits to start slaughtering horses again—after one plant sued the USDA to allow the killing to begin. This was only possible because Congress’s previous inspection funding ban expired in 2011, demonstrating that targeting inspections is at best a temporary and tenuous tool in the effort to permanently protect American horses from harm.
Indeed, letting this provision lapse has led a tumultuous, high-stakes battle this past year—with the USDA initially issuing permits to slaughter horses, animal advocates suing to stop them, courts imposing injunctions to halt the process (and then rescinding them), local and state agencies denying permits, and even current and former Governors weighing in publicly to try and stop the killing. It has been a massive drain of time, resources, and energy for all involved.
Thankfully horse slaughter has again been derailed, but just for the moment, as this renewed ban lasts only through September 30, 2014, the end of the fiscal year. In order to truly bring an end to this abhorrent practice, it is time to urge your members of congress to pass the Safeguard American Foods Export (SAFE) Act S. 541 and H.R. 1094. This bill would permanently ban the domestic slaughter of horses and halt the export of American horses for slaughter abroad by prohibiting the “sale or transport of horses in interstate or foreign commerce for purposes of human consumption.” Please make a call today.
But wait, that’s not all… Today’s enacted spending bill also restored protections for wild horses as well. Using the same funding ban tactic, the bill prohibits the expenditure of Federal funds on “the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros…or for the sale of wild horses and burros that results in their destruction for processing into commercial products.” This helps fix a 2004 spending amendment that removed 34-year old protections and allowed the Bureau of Land Management to sell wild horses for slaughter if they were over ten years old or had failed to be adopted at least three times.
Additionally, today’s bill grants the U.S. Forest service authority to spend or transfer funds to help adopt wild horses and burros from National Forest System lands, and also for the BLM to enter into 10-year agreements “for the long-term care and maintenance of excess wild free roaming horses and burros” on private lands.
All-in-all a great day for American horses…but there is still much work to be done.
Now let’s get the SAFE Act passed and make these protections permanent.
Source: Animal Legal Defense Fund by Chris Green
WASHINGTON --The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) today applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for voting to prohibit the use of tax dollars to inspect U.S. horse slaughter facilities, reinstating a ban on domestic horse slaughter for the 2014 fiscal year.
The massive omnibus bill containing the defund language is expected to pass the U.S. Senate and be signed into law by the president later this week.
“The message from Capitol Hill is loud and clear on this issue: Our horses deserve better and this abhorrent industry will not be tolerated. Using taxpayer dollars to fund the inhumane horse slaughter industry is reckless and wasteful,” said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA Government Relations. “We thank the members of the House for halting efforts to resume horse slaughter on U.S. soil and urge the Senate to quickly pass this bill.”
The defund provision was approved by both the House and Senate Agricultural Appropriations Committees as amendments offered by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and the late Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Congress regularly included a similar spending prohibition each year from 2005 to 2010, but failed to include the language in the 2012 budget, opening the door for a return of horse slaughter in the U.S., despite broad opposition to the practice. Several applications to open horse slaughter facilities have recently been filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in New Mexico, Missouri and Iowa.
“I am incredibly proud that the omnibus appropriations bill includes a provision banning USDA inspections at horse slaughter plants, effectively prohibiting horse slaughter in the U.S.,” said Rep. Moran.
“These incredible companion animals don’t deserve to be callously slaughtered for human consumption. We fought hard for the past three years to reinstate this ban to prevent slaughter facilities from reopening on American soil. This achievement would not have been possible without the support of numerous federal, state and local officials, animal protection organizations, and dedicated citizens across the country.”
In a national poll commissioned by the ASPCA, it was revealed that 80 percent of American voters are opposed to the slaughter of U.S. horses for human consumption. Horse slaughter is inherently cruel and often erroneously compared to humane euthanasia. The methods used to slaughter horses rarely result in quick, painless deaths, as horses are difficult to stun and often remain conscious during their butchering and dismemberment. Whether slaughter occurs in the U.S. or abroad, these equines suffer incredible abuse even before they arrive at the slaughterhouse, often transported for more than 24 hours at a time without food, water or rest, and in dangerously overcrowded trailers where the animals are often seriously injured or even killed in transit. The majority of horses killed for human consumption are young, healthy animals who could go on to lead productive lives with loving owners. Last year, more than 160,000 American horses were sent to a cruel death by a grisly foreign industry that produces unsafe food for consumers.
While the FY 2014 spending bill protects American communities from the devastating environmental and economic impact of horse slaughter facilities, it does not prohibit the transport of U.S. horses for slaughter across the border to Canada and Mexico. To address this issue, Sens. Landrieu and Graham, and Reps. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), introduced the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (S. 541/H.R. 1094)—bipartisan legislation that would end the current export of American horses for slaughter abroad, and protect the public from consuming toxic horse meat.
For more information on the ASPCA and to join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade, please visit www.aspca.org.
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
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's top prosecutor filed a lawsuit Thursday in state district court in an attempt to block a planned horse slaughter plant from opening in less than two weeks.
The move by Attorney General Gary King comes after a federal appeals court rolled back a court order that had kept Valley Meat Co. from starting operations earlier this fall. Owner Rick De Los Santos has been making plans to open Jan. 1, and his attorney said Thursday that those plans haven't changed.
Attorney Blair Dunn called King's lawsuit frivolous and a waste of taxpayer money. Under state law, if a judge issues a restraining order or preliminary injunction, a security bond would have to be posted by the state while the legal challenge winds its way through the court. Dunn said that could cost New Mexico as much as $435,000 a month.
"As a New Mexican, as a taxpayer, I'm beyond offended and I think it's almost criminal what they're doing. They're wasting everybody's money," Dunn said.
King defended the lawsuit, saying Valley Meat stands to violate state laws related to food safety, water quality and unfair business practices.
"I believe that the operation of this plant in New Mexico is antithetical to the way we do business in New Mexico," King said. "We don't eat horses in New Mexico, and we think this is an inappropriate use of this plant."
Valley Meat and proposed plants in Missouri and Iowa have been the targets of animal protection groups trying to block the slaughtering of horses. Valley Meat began leading the effort to resume domestic horse slaughter two years ago after Congress lifted its ban on the practice. In August, as plants in the three states were preparing to open, The Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection groups sued to contest the Department of Agriculture's permitting process.
A federal judge in Albuquerque issued a temporary restraining order, prompting the Iowa company to convert its operations to beef. U.S. District Judge Christine Armijo threw out the lawsuit in November, allowing all three companies to proceed.
The animal protection groups appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued an emergency motion that again blocked the plants from opening. The appellate court lifted that order last week, saying the groups "failed to meet their burden for an injunction pending appeal."
Animal Protection of New Mexico and Front Range Equine Rescue were among the groups throwing their support behind King's lawsuit on Thursday.
According to the lawsuit, Valley Meat has a history of violating state and federal environmental and safety laws while operating as a beef slaughterhouse. The state says Valley Meat's failure to monitor and test water samples as part of its past discharge permits dates back decades. The company is also accused of disposing of carcasses illegally.
Dunn challenged the state's claims and accused King, a Democrat who is running for governor, of politicizing the case.
While it could be weeks before the state district court rules on King's request, Dunn said Valley Meat will continue to prepare for operations to begin. The company says it has multiple international contracts lined up.
Source: Huffington Post by Susan Montoya Bryan, AP
Attorney, Bruce Wagman, discusses Horse Slaughter: The status of the current lawsuit against the USDA, initiatives at the state/local levels, and the ongoing commitment of Front Range Equine Rescue to stop the slaughtering of American horses.
Source: Mike Jaxson, Soundcloud
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
There is nothing preventing a northwest Missouri horse slaughter plant from opening, a lawyer for the facility's operator said Monday, despite a host of legal challenges and a question about the facility's wastewater disposal permits.
A federal judge in New Mexico last week cleared the way for equine slaughterhouses to resume operating in the U.S., dismissing a lawsuit by the Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection groups against the federal Department of Agriculture over planned plants in New Mexico and Iowa. The groups, along with the state of New Mexico, quickly filed an appeal on Friday as well as an emergency injunction request.
Rains Natural Meats, which was preparing to open the plant in Gallatin, could face yet another hurdle; a restriction by a Missouri Department of Natural Resources wastewater disposal permit issued on Oct. 29 that limits Rains to the processing of non-equine animals.
"It appears to us that the Missouri wastewater permit effectively doesn't allow Rains to process horses," said Clayton attorney Stephen Jeffery, who represents a Daviess County resident and two horse rescue groups that challenged the state's permitting process in a Jefferson City lawsuit.
But Albuquerque attorney Blair Dunn, who represents Rains along with the Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, N.M., said his client was in negotiations with the Missouri DNR and the city of Gallatin, which has provided its own discharge permit that would allow Rains to operate the plant as long as it sends its wastewater to a municipal disposal plant.
"There is nothing prohibiting the plant from beginning operations, nor the government from sending in inspectors," Dunn said Monday.
Horse slaughterhouses last operated in the U.S. in 2007 before Congress banned the practice by eliminating funding for plant inspections. Federal lawmakers restored those cuts in 2011, but the USDA has been slow in granting permits, citing the need to re-establish an oversight program.
The debate over a return to domestic horse slaughter centers on whether horses are livestock or companion animals and what is the most humane way to deal with the country's horse overpopulation, particularly in the drought-stricken West. Supporters say it is better to slaughter unwanted horses in regulated domestic plants than to ship them to sometimes inhumane plants in Mexico. The companies want to ship horse meat to countries where it is consumed by humans or used as animal feed.
Source: KMOV, by Alan Scher Zagier
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