ROSWELL, N.M. - Agents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted a walk-through of Valley Meat Co. on Tuesday, days after the Humane Society of the United States and Front Range Equine Rescue submitted a notice of intent to sue if the agency agrees to provide inspections required for the facility to slaughter horses.
The walkthrough does not constitute a final determination for Valley Meat, according to attorney Bruce Wagman, a partner at the Schiff Hardin law firm who represents both potential plaintiffs. "It means they did an inspection of the facility for certain criteria,"Wagman said. "It doesn't at all mean that there's an approval of horse slaughter. The walkthrough is part of a chain of events, sort of like saying once you get the nomination that you're actually the president. You may get nominated, but that doesn't mean you're going to win."
In their submission, Larkspur, Colo.-based Front Range Equine Rescue and the national Humane Society note that horse slaughter is a threat to the environment and to wildlife in the vicinity.
USDA activity related to Valley Meat is not necessarily affected by the notice of intent to sue, Wagman said. However, he emphasized that opening a horse slaughterhouse would require a final grant of inspection by the USDA, not just a walkthrough.
In threatening to sue, the organizations say wastewater and other slaughterhouse byproducts produced at Valley Meat could damage the habitats of several threatened or endangered species. That means more obstacles to approval for the plant, Wagman said.
"In order to approve the site as a slaughterhouse," he said, "USDA is required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service over the potential damage to those endangered species and their critical habitats."
Valley Meat is located near the South Spring and Pecos rivers, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Bottomless Lakes State Park. Among species mentioned in the notice are the Pecos bluntnose shiner, three snail species and a freshwater
Should the USDA give Valley Meat final approval, owner Ricardo De Los Santos still faces other obstacles. Wagman said plans to export the meat to eastern Europe and Asia would not comply with the New Mexico Food Act.
"Under New Mexico food law, horse meat is adulterated and cannot be sold," he said. "You can't sell it to somebody else, either. Doesn't mean, 'Oh, you can sell it to Europeans.' It means it can't be sold - period."
In the New Mexico Food Act, revised in 1993, Chapter 25, Article 2 refers to adulterated or misbranded food. The text is online at nmenv.state.nm.us.