SANTA FE — The Navajo Nation is about to wade into the heated debate over a horse meat processing plant in Roswell and will support Valley Meat Co. becoming the first horse slaughterhouse in the U.S. in seven years.
“They’re eating up the land and drinking all the water,” Erny
Zah, spokesman for Navajo Nation President Ben Shelley told New Mexico Watchdog of the feral horses on Navajo Nation land that encompasses 27,425 square miles, including parts of Arizona and Utah as well as a large section of northwest New Mexico.
Zah estimated there are 20,000 to 30,000 “feral horses on our lands,” and that Navajo Nation lawyers in Washington, D.C., are in the process of finalizing a letter that Shelly will sign in support of the horse slaughter facility “with the next couple of days.”
“I’m sympathetic to the native nations but all this is going to do is make New Mexico the slaughter state,” said Phil Carter of Animal Protection New Mexico, one of the facility’s opponents. “We have to move forward beyond this outdated and cruel slaughter model.”
The debate over the facility in Roswell has sparked heated arguments that extend beyond state borders.Opponents of the facility include Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, former Gov. Bill Richardson, state Attorney General Gary King and
State Land Commissioner Ray Powell, as well as actor Robert Redford and animal rights groups. The Humane Society of the United States is one of a slew of plaintiffs seeking an injunction to stop the company from opening its slaughterhouse operations.
Supporters say that given the rising cost of hay, horses have been abandoned and left to starve. They argue it’s better to have unwanted and dying horses killed in a federall -inspected facility in the U.S. than have them sent to plants in places like Mexico, where they often meet gruesome deaths in unsanitary conditions.
“Which would you rather do, put them down in a humane fashion or let them starve to death,” the facility’s attorney Blair Dunn
said earlier this month. The debate has become more intense as Valley Meat Co. hopes to open as soon as Aug. 5. A federal court hearing is set for Friday in Albuquerque
Last Saturday, a fire broke out at the company and officials suspect it may have been deliberately set. The blaze burned part of the exterior of Valley Meat Co.’s building and damaged a refrigeration unit. A Chaves County sheriff’s lieutenant described the fire as “very suspicious.”
“It was an act of domestic terrorism,” Dunn told the Texas-New Mexico Newspapers Partnership Tuesday.
Zah said the Navajo Nation’s decision to weigh in on the matter is “more economic” than anything else.
“We’re already in a drought,” Zah said. “We already have our registered cattle and sheep and registered horses to care for. We’re concerned about water and vegetation” being eaten by feral horses. Zah said a horse slaughter facility in Roswell is simply closer and more cost-effective.
“We need some place to take them,” he said. “There are other options but they are more costly …The plant Roswell provides us this opportunity.”
But Carter says there are other options, including injecting horses with contraceptives, gelding stallions and euthanizing them.
But isn’t that expensive?
Carter points to the New Mexico Equine Protection Fund that his group administers and says the cost to tending to feral horses has been reduced to about $200 per head. “And there’s no reason those costs couldn’t come down more,” Carter said.
“They’re sacred animals,” Zah acknowledged but added, “We also have a kinship with our land. There’s a delicate balance there. Everything is related, everything is intertwined. When one is out of balance, we have to take care of that delicate balance.”
Supporters of the plant have estimated there are 9,000 feral horses on Mescalero Apache land in southern New Mexico. Numerous phone calls from New Mexico Watchdog to Alfred LaPaz, acting president of the Mescalero tribe, seeking comment have gone unanswered.
Blair Dunn, the attorney representing the companies, "Valley Meat Co." and "Rains Natural Meats" in the federal lawsuit regarding the opening of Horse Slaughter facilities, gives an interview to Mike Jaxson. Dunn maintains the position that his clients and the USDA should be given the green light to start slaughter operations, despite the fact that a proper environmental review (NEPA) hasn't been conducted. He also gives a brief mention of the suspicious June 27th fire at Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, New Mexico.
>>>Click Here for more information on the alleged arson that took place at Valley Meat Co on July 27, 2013
Valley Meat Co in Roswell, New Mexico
Arsonists set fire to the southeastern New Mexico company that planned to resume domestic horse slaughter next week, the company's owner said Tuesday. "They tried to burn the place down," Valley Meat Co. owner Rick De Los Santo said Tuesday in reference to opponents who have been making threats against the company over the past year as it has fought the federal government for permission to convert its cattle operations into a horse slaughterhouse.
Chaves County officials told the Roswell Daily Record they are investigating what they characterized as a "very suspicious" blaze. Sheriff Rob Coon did not immediately return phone calls Tuesday, but in the past, he has expressed concern about potential trouble at the Roswell plant.
Attempts by companies like Valley Meat Co. to resume domestic horse slaughter have ignited an emotional national debate that has resulted in a string of threats against De Los Santos, his family and his business. "We have had some say, `I hope your building burns down,'" De Los Santos said. "That's not good at all. What are they going to do next? Take a pot shot at us when we are walking in?"
On Saturday, De Los Santos said someone apparently jumped the fence, then poured accelerant over the compressors to his refrigeration unit. A passer-by alerted authorities.
"The fire inspector was out there," De Los Santos said. "He took samples of the dirt and stuff just to make sure. But he said this was something that was not done by electricity or lightning. He said something was poured on it to light it."
De Los Santos says the company will be unable to open as planned Monday without a working refrigeration unit.
The company also goes to federal court Friday to fight attempts by The Humane Society of the United States and other groups to block the opening of Valley Meat and another recently approved horse slaughterhouse in Iowa. The groups contend that the Department of Agriculture failed to conduct the proper environmental reviews before issuing the companies permits to slaughter horses.
The USDA also opposes horse slaughter. But after being sued by Valley Meat Co. for failing to act on its application, the agency said it was obligated to issue the permits since Congress lifted a ban on domestic horse slaughter in 2011.
Meat from the slaughterhouses would be shipped to some countries for human consumption and for use as zoo and other animal food.