The USDA said its Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) is not forbidden by law from inspecting horse processing plants, according to the agency’s response to an appeal filed in the 10th District Circuit Count to stop horse processing in at a New Mexico plant and elsewhere.

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 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 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. 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.

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