Just days after a federal judge threw out a lawsuit seeking to halt horse processing in New Mexico, a new order handed down by a Denver, Colo., appeals court has barred the USDA from carrying out inspections at U.S. horse slaughter plants.
Horse slaughter has not taken place in the United States since 2007 when a combination of court rulings and legislation shuttered the last domestic equine 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 federal inspections. In 2011, legislation reinstated USDA funding for horse processing plants in the United States and, in June 2013, Valley Meats Co. LLC in Roswell, N.M., received a Food Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) 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-based U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo allowed the lawsuit to expire without ruling on the case. Attorney Blair Dunn—who represents the owners of Valley Meats as well as the owners of Rains Natural Meats, another plant hoping to process horses in Gallatin, Mo. —said the expiration cleared the way for Valley Meats to begin processing horses in New Mexico.
However, on Nov. 4 the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver issued an emergency temporary injunction barring the USDA from inspecting the plants pending further order of the court, Dunn said. The ruling stops once again the opening of both the Valley Meats plant and the Rains Natural Meats plant.
“This is a bit of a roller coaster ride, and it’s only temporary, but score this round for our side and for the horses,” said Keith Dane, HSUS vice president of equine welfare.
Dunn vowed to have facts of his client’s case heard in court.
“Operations (have been) again halted by the delay and interference litigation of HSUS,” said Dunn.