Former Governor Bill Richardson met in Washington D.C with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and urged him to stop the reopening of horse slaughterhouses, but didn’t come back with the response he hoped to hear.
Richardson suggested that the USDA immediately conduct a complete review of its rule making procedures regarding horse slaughter and that it block any horse slaughterhouse from reopening until that review is completed. The meeting was part of an effort made to prevent the opening of a horse slaughterhouse near Roswell. “We appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s willingness to listen to our suggestions, and we hope that today’s meeting will be an important milestone in the fight against horse slaughter.”
“I impressed on him the urgency of the matter as the welfare of these animals and the impact to the environment hangs in the balance,” Richardson added.
Richardson’s trip was on behalf of The Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife, an animal protection foundation he recently founded with actor Robert Redford. Earlier in the week the Foundation announced its first action was joining a federal lawsuit against the USDA that seeks to block horse slaughter. The Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue and Horses For Life Foundation are among the organizations that filed the suit against USDA officials.
Brian Egolf, attorney for the foundation, said: ”The Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife believes, as the vast majority of Americans do, that horse slaughter has no place in our country.
Source: Albuquerque Business First
ALBUQUERQUE—A lawsuit that challenges the revival of horse slaughter in the United States illustrates the divisiveness of the practice even among the people who have considered the animals sacred for centuries: Native Americans.
The Chief of the Minikoju Band of the Cheyenne River Tribe Lakota Indians—Chief David Bald Eagle—is among the plaintiffs who are seeking to enjoin the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from authorizing the resumption of horse slaughter for human consumption after a years-long hiatus.
USDA officials have been accused of violating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by neglecting to prepare an environmental impact statement or environmental assessment before granting inspection to horse slaughter plants and implementing a residue testing program for the animals.
Horse slaughter is considered vile by at least some animal-rights organizations and Americans, including natives with roots that long predate the U.S. government in charge of overseeing the practice.
"The Lakota and Chief David Bald Eagle believe that abusing a horse, including slaughtering a horse for human consumption, will bring misfortune or death to the abuser," according to the 40-page lawsuit that was filed in New Mexico federal court. "The Lakota and Chief David Bald Eagle also believe that allowing the slaughter of horses on Native American land will not benefit the tribal nations, but instead will be an opportunity for more control by the non-native government and outside special interests."
Sandy Schaefer, a member of the Sioux tribe, is another plaintiff in the case. She resides in Roswell, N.M., where Valley Meat Company LLC plans to slaughter horses after USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service last month issued a "Grant of Inspection" to the business. According to the lawsuit, Schaefer considers horse slaughter "greedy, disrespectful and contrary to the Native Americans' relationship with its brother nation, the horse nation."
But individuals who support horse slaughter maintain that many horses are unwanted in America, including on Indian reservations, and that an overpopulation causes damage to the lands. James Stephenson, who is employed as a big game biologist by the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation in Washington, cites an overpopulation of wild/feral horses on the 1.3 million acres of land his employer manages and owns.
"The increased number of horses on the reservation is causing compaction on the soil and is destroying traditional food and medicinal plants, such as camas, bitterroot, Indian celery, wild onions and many other plants of significance to the tribal members by trampling and overgrazing," he stated.
Concluded Stephenson: "I believe it is critical to allow horse slaughter again in the United States because without it, the Yakama Nation is suffering massive economic and environmental damage."
In 2007, Congress ended horse slaughter for human consumption. Four years later, lawmakers appropriated funding for inspection of horse slaughter facilities. At least six applications have been submitted to USDA to resume this activity. The Obama Administration has asked Congress to reinstate the ban. Although lawmakers haven't done so, the appropriations committees in the House and Senate have voted to eliminate funds for inspection of horse slaughter facilities.
Last month, a committee of the 69-year-old National Congress of American Indians adopted a resolution, which supported the resumption of horse slaughter facilities and opposed legislation that is aimed to ban such activity. The resolution states, in part: "Whereas, the Economic Development/Natural Resources committee agrees that the horse market represents the only economically viable means of reducing the size of feral herds damaging reservation environments and would further assist reservation horse producers who need to sustain their livestock operations, in the productive utilization of tribal and allotted lands".
The emotional debate over horse slaughter is likely to play out during an Aug. 2 hearing before Chief U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo in Albuquerque, who will hear plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction. USDA hasn't yet filed an answer to the lawsuit, according to Bruce Wagman, a lawyer representing some of the animal-rights organizations who are named plaintiffs. USDA referred inquires to the U.S. Department of Justice, which didn't immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Front Range Equine Rescue and Horses For Life Foundation are among the organizations that have sued USDA officials.
A. Blair Dunn, a lawyer in Albuquerque representing Valley Meat, said: "Valley thinks it is extremely disappointing that organizations such as HSUS do virtually nothing to actually care for horses and instead focus on spending money on lawsuits against law abiding businesses and waste tax dollars on frivolous lawsuits against the government." Valley Meat refutes claims that the proposed facilities will threaten the environment.
"The true motivations of plaintiffs are not to protect the environment, or out of concern for human health," Dunn wrote in court documents, "but are to destroy the industry thru delay or attempting to delay long enough on the hope that Congress will again change the law."
"Horse slaughter has no place in our culture," Redford, "The Horse Whisperer" actor and director and Oscar-winning director, said in a statement. "It is cruel, inhumane, and perpetuates abuse and neglect of these beloved animals."
Valley Meat faces increasing opposition to its plans from government agencies in New Mexico. Gary King, the Attorney General of New Mexico, has sought to intervene in the lawsuit to halt the Roswell plant from slaughtering equines. He previously raised concerns that animals destined for the slaughterhouse are treated with drugs that are unsafe for human consumption.
In another setback to the business, the New Mexico Environment Department announced it would hold a public hearing on Valley Meat's request to "discharge agricultural wastewater into surface impoundments in Chaves County, New Mexico." The state agency said it had reviewed more than 450 public comments, illustrating widespread interest in Valley Meat's plans to slaughter horses. Dunn told The Associated Press the lack of a permit would not prevent the plant from opening as planned on Aug. 5.
Source: Food Product Design
In response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to allow horse slaughter facilities to resume operating on U.S. soil, animal protection organizations have filed suit against the agency and asked for an immediate injunction.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture granted an inspection permit to a discredited horse slaughter plant operator in New Mexico, bringing the nation closer to its first horse slaughter operation since federal courts and state lawmakers shuttered the last three U.S. based plants in 2007.
The USDA has let it be known that it may also approve horse slaughter plants in Iowa and Missouri in the coming days. Meanwhile, U.S. House and Senate appropriations committees voted in June to halt all funding for horse slaughter in FY 2014, which means that the federal government could spend millions of taxpayer dollars to start up inspections at horse slaughter plants, only to have Congress terminate the process in the coming months.
Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The HSUS, said: “Horse slaughter plants pollute local water bodies with blood and offal, permeate the air with a foul stench, diminish property values and put horses through misery. USDA’s decision to visit these horrors on the citizens of New Mexico, Missouri, and Iowa – without even conducting an environmental review first – is irresponsible, and a clear violation of federal law.”
Hilary Wood, president of Front Range Equine Rescue, said: “The USDA has failed to consider the basic fact that horses are not raised as a food animal. Horse owners provide their horses with a number of substances dangerous to human health. To blatantly ignore this fact jeopardizes human health as well as the environment surrounding a horse slaughter plant. The negative consequences of horse slaughter will be felt immediately and over the long term if allowed to resume in the U.S. America’s horses are not food.”
Allondra Stevens, founder of Horses For Life Foundation, said: “The USDA’s decision to grant horse slaughter inspections is an outright insult and a betrayal to the overwhelming majority of Americans who are against horse slaughter, to the welfare of the animals themselves, and to consumer and environmental safety. With the environmental and food safety risks of horse slaughter operations, the FSIS is leading the USA down a reckless and dangerous path due to the toxic byproducts of horse slaughter. As a nation of horse lovers, our time and resources will be better spent thinking outside the slaughterbox, working to implement more programs and infrastructures that assist with horse rescue, retention and retirement solutions.”
Any facility slaughtering thousands of horses will necessarily be processing the blood, organs and remains of animals whose tissues and blood may contain significant amounts of dangerous substances, which are either known to be dangerous, or which have never been tested on humans and therefore present completely unknown dangers. At least six applications for horse slaughter inspections have been filed with the USDA.
The plaintiffs are represented in the case by attorney, Bruce Wagman of Schiff Hardin, LLP.
- Last month, the U.S. House and Senate Appropriations committees voted to block funding for inspections of horse slaughter plants. President Obama’s proposed FY 2014 budget also included a request for Congress to prevent tax dollars from supporting horse slaughter.
- The federal government could potentially spend millions of taxpayer dollars to start up inspections at horse slaughter plants, only to have Congress terminate the process in the coming months.
- The HSUS and FRER also filed petitions with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to declare horsemeat unfit for human consumption. USDA denied that petition.
- According to a national poll conducted last year, 80 percent of Americans disapprove of horse slaughter.
- “Kill buyers” gather up horses from random sources and profit by selling healthy horses for slaughter that bring the best price per pound for their meat. USDA reports show that approximately 92 percent of American horses going to slaughter are healthy and would otherwise be able to go on to lead productive lives.
- The methods used to kill horses rarely result in quick, painless deaths, as horses often endure repeated blows to render them unconscious and sometimes remain conscious during the slaughtering process. When horse slaughter plants previously operated in the U.S., the USDA documented severe injuries to horses in the slaughter pipeline, including broken bones and eyeballs hanging from a thread of skin.
- The Safeguard American Food Exports Act, H.R. 1094 / S. 541, introduced this year by U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Reps. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., is a bipartisan measure that would outlaw horse slaughter operations in the U.S., end the current export of American horses for slaughter abroad, and protect the public from consuming toxic horsemeat.
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