A federal judge in Albuquerque today cleared the way for horse slaughterhouses to again begin operating in the U.S.
On Friday,U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo on Friday threw out a lawsuit by The Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue and several other animal protection groups.
The groups had been seeking a permanent injunction barring the opening of horse slaughterhouses. In the suit, the plaintiffs alleged that the Department of Agriculture failed to conduct proper environmental studies when it issued permits to Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, N.M., and Rains Natural Meats, in Gallatin, M.O., to slaughter horses for human consumption.
Opponents have repeatedly referred to environmental and public health concerns, as well as the inherently inhumane nature of slaughterhouses for horses. Proponents claim there is a practical need for horse slaughter, frequently citing a recently debunked report produced by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Horse meat is not generally consumed in the U.S. and horses are not raised as food animals here. Additionally, horses in the U.S. are routinely treated with drugs that are banned for human consumption by the FDA.
Horse meat scandals have plagued the European food market this year, as products labeled as “beef” have been discovered to contain significant amounts of horsemeat. In some cases, the product was found to be 100%horsemeat, in spite of its labeling.
Food advocates are concerned about the threat to the integrity of the U.S. food supply. The U.S. has less stringent labeling requirements than Europe, and this year, there were several outbreaks of food-borne illness which were traced to slaughterhouses.
Valley Meat Co. says it plans to export horse meat to other countries where it is consumed. The company has come under considerable attention recently. Earlier this year, an employee of Valley Meat, Tim Sappington, filmed himself shooting a young horse in the head, and posted the video to YouTube as a warning to animal activists.
The video went viral and Sappington was subsequently fired. No charges were filed, as it is not illegal in New Mexico to kill and eat your own horse.
But Valley Meat’s troubles don’t end there. The company racked up repeated violations before its license to operate was suspended.
The complaints included a 2010 letter to state health officials from an Agriculture Department inspector reporting that piles of animal remains were as high as 15 feet high along the back property line of the plant. “I am told that during fly season the pile literally moves due to maggots,” wrote Ron C. Nelson, the district manager for the department’s Food Safety Inspection Service in Denver, who took pictures of what he saw.
However, Judge Armijo’s decision today cleared the way for both companies to begin slaughtering horses.The attorney for the companies said Rains Natural Meats will begin its horse slaughter operation as early as Monday.