Nonprofit organizations are taking to the courts to try to stop an Interior Department project that would sterilize up to 100 wild female horses in Oregon through a procedure the groups deem "dangerous" and "inhumane."
Front Range Equine Rescue, a nonprofit organization that works to stop cruelty and abuse of horses, filed a federal lawsuit in Washington D.C. challenging the Interior Department Bureau of Land Management's project on September 24. The group claims that the project violates a number of laws, including the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
The American Wild Horse Campaign and the Cloud Foundation, along with two individuals, filed a separate federal lawsuit in Oregon on September 21 claiming the government project violates the First Amendment because it does not allow outside groups to adequately observe the proposed experiment. It also believes the project violates the same laws Front Range Equine Rescue argues in their suit.
The surgery that the Bureau of Land Management plans to use on the horses is called ovariectomy via colpotomy. In this procedure, veterinarians remove both of the mare's ovaries by making an incision and putting their hands in the mare's abdomen to "blindly feel around for the ovaries." They then use a tool to remove the ovaries through the vagina, according to court documents.
The Bureau of Land Management is conducting the research in an attempt to find ways to control overpopulation of wild horses across the country. About 27,000 wild horses and burros, or small donkeys, can sustainably live on public land designated for wildlife. Right now, about 82,000 wild horses and burros are living on that land, according to Tara Thissell, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management's Burns, Oregon office.
The project will be conducted using a group of 200 horses from the Warm Springs Herd Management Area in Oregon. One hundred of those horses will be a control group, and about 100 horses will receive the surgery, according to Thissell.
In its complaint, Front Range Equine Rescue states, "the surgical procedure is at best risky." Brieanah Schwartz, government relations and policy counsel of the American Wild Horse Campaign, said the procedure is "very rarely used on domesticated mares." In this experiment, it would be used on wild horses.
"There are levels of management of population, which is the concern here, that are much less invasive, much less disruptive, much less potentially cruel and harmful to the horses than pulling out their ovaries with a tool," Front Range Equine Rescue lawyer Bruce Wagman said.
Both Front Range Equine Rescue and the American Wild Horse Campaign believe that a birth control vaccine for horses called Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP) is one of the more humane ways to help control the wild horse population.
Thissell said that both versions of PZP available have to be administered either every year or every one to two years, which is not sustainable. Every time the vaccine must be administered, the horses have to be captured and rounded up to do so. The Bureau of Land Management does use PZP on some wild horses, but Thissell did not have a specific number of how many wild horses have received the vaccine.
The Bureau of Land Management is working with the US Geological Survey for the research project. The federal agencies were partnering with Colorado State University on the project initially, but after the Bureau of Land Management's environmental assessment regarding the project was publicly released and received thousands of comments, the university withdrew from participation on August 8.
The Bureau of Land Management then released another updated environmental assessment on August 22, which received about 10,000 comments.
The agency has attempted to use this surgical procedure on mares before.
In 2016, it proposed a research project that would have used this procedure along with two other procedural options. Both Front Range Equine Rescue and the American Wild Horse Campaign legally challenged the agency's project in 2016, and it ended up not going through with it.
The Bureau of Land Management plans to begin rounding up horses for this research project in October. Procedures on mares could begin as early as November.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will help determine the fate of a proposed horse slaughter plant later this month, as state officials weigh a permit application that would allow the facility to begin processing equines in Gallatin.
With the deadline for a decision looming, officials with the company, Rains Natural Meats, say they are worried that political pressure will influence the process.
Rains' company representatives say DNR officials have already misinterpreted Missouri regulations in dealing with the horse slaughter issue.
But Gena Terlizzi, a DNR spokeswoman, said the agency has strictly adhered to state procedures. And she noted that Rains initially signaled it would not be slaughtering horses at the facility.
In November, the natural resources agency granted Rains a general operating permit to begin slaughtering livestock, except for horses. "DNR granted the permit they requested," said Terlizzi.
But attorneys for Rains say the state has never excluded horses in granting such permits, and they objected to the exclusion of equines. "Horses have always been considered livestock under Missouri law and code," said Blair Dunn, a New Mexico-based attorney representing Rains. But now, DNR officials have "got it into their heads" to treat horses differently, he said.
He suggested the decision was political. "The resistance in Missouri seems to come from the agency and therefore the governor," Dunn said. The Humane Society of the United States "screams so loud it makes politicians nervous. They don't want to get crosswise with them for fear of being attacked."
Scott Holste, a spokesman for Gov. Jay Nixon, did not respond to questions about whether Nixon supports horse slaughter for human consumption. He referred questions to Terlizzi, the DNR spokeswoman, who said the matter was being handled in accordance with Missouri regulations and with no involvement from the governor's office.
Bruce Wagman, an attorney for Front Range Equine Rescue, a horse advocacy group that has been fighting Rains' efforts to secure a permit, said DNR was right to make the distinction between horses and other livestock. Cows, pigs, and other animals are raised in a regulated environment with the knowledge that they will eventually be consumed by humans.
"The big difference with horses is they're raised as our companion animals, or work animals, or race horses," he said. Over the course of their lives, they're often given "a whole bunch of drugs" without their owners thinking "this is going to be meat," said Wagman.
Rains Natural Meats officials scoffed at this, saying any horses they purchase for slaughter will be tested for drugs, following federal guidelines. "We only work through certified horse buyers, and they will not get their money for those horses until they have a clean test," said David Rains, vice president of the company. And he said it would be "bad business" for him to sell meat with traces of pharmaceuticals.
In November, Rains amended its application and asked for a new permit with no exclusions. The state has until Jan. 26 to rule on the new application.
"If the new general operating permit issued to Rains by DNR in late January contains language prohibiting equine processing, it will be a clear indication to many that Jay Nixon and (Attorney General) Chris Koster are not friends of farmers, ranchers and the agriculture business in Missouri," said Dan Erdel, another attorney representing Rains.
David Rains has said he thinks there will be a significant domestic and foreign market for his company's horse-meat products. "There's going to be a surprising domestic market, and there is an export market," he said in a June interview. "There's some interest on the zoo side, too."
If Rains and the other companies open their doors, it will be the first time horses have been slaughtered for human consumption since 2007. Congress paved the way for the resumption of horse slaughter in 2011, by lifting a ban first enacted in 2006 that barred the Agriculture Department from using federal funds to inspect any meat processing plants that slaughter horses. Plants that are not inspected by the USDA cannot ship meat across state lines, so that 2006 provision effectively ended domestic horse slaughter.
In the wake of Congress' move to lift the ban, the Humane Society and other groups quickly mounted legal challenges and began lobbying Congress for a permanent ban on horse slaughter. A federal court recently lifted an emergency injunction blocking Rains and two other companies - one in Iowa and the other in New Mexico - from processing horses for meat.
Animal-rights groups have argued that slaughtering horses is inhumane and unnecessary. But supporters say slaughter is a good end-of-life option for horses whose owners no longer need or want them. They say the ban led to an increase in abandoned and neglected horses in Missouri and elsewhere.
Rains is also waiting to receive a federal permit from the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service. A spokeswoman for the USDA did not return a message asking about the status of Rains' federal application.
Source: News-Leader by Deirdre Shesgreen
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