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.
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 Horses For Life Foundation 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 State, Front Range Equine Rescue, Horses For Life Foundation and others, 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.
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
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