Horse processing plants in New Mexico and elsewhere could be operational in the near future now that a federal appeals court has ruled against animal rights groups that challenged horse processing plants in the United States.

Horse slaughter has not taken place in the United States since 2007 when court rulings and legislation shuttered the last domestic processing plants. Prior to 2007, USDA personnel carried out inspections at horse processing plants until Congress voted to strip the USDA of funds to pay personnel conducting those inspections. In 2011, legislation reinstated USDA funding for U.S. horse processing plants and, in June 2013, Valley Meats Co. LLC in Roswell, N.M., received Food Safety Inspection Service permit, which allows placement of personnel at the plant to carry out horsemeat inspections.

In April 2013, the Front Range Equine Rescue and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) announced that they would bring a federal lawsuit challenging any permit issued to Valley Meats on grounds that the USDA failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the plant’s potential environmental impact.

On Oct. 31, Albuquerque, N.M.-based U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo allowed the lawsuit to expire without ruling on the case.

At the time, HSUS Director of Equine Welfare Keith Dane said in a written statement that both Front Range Equine Rescue and HSUS would appeal Armijo’s decision.

On Dec. 13, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colo., ruled that HSUS and Front Range Equine failed to “meet their burden” for an injunction that would prevent the New Mexico plant,