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
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.