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USDA Approves Horse Slaughter: Animal Welfare Groups Sue

PHOTO: American horses are held in export pens in Texas and New Mexico before transported to slaughter in Mexico. This American horse was most likely injured during transport. American horses are kept in a holding pen in San Jerónimo Mexico, just over the New Mexico border. Courtesy Kathy Milani, for HSUS.
PHOTO: American horses are held in export pens in Texas and New Mexico before transported to slaughter in Mexico. This American horse was most likely injured during transport. American horses are kept in a holding pen in San Jerónimo Mexico, just over the New Mexico border. Courtesy Kathy Milani, for HSUS.
July 3, 2013

ROSWELL, N.M. - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has granted Valley Meat's application to start domestic horse slaughter in New Mexico.

In Congress, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees already have said they won't fund inspections of any horse-slaughter plants in 2014 despite the USDA's plans to approve them.

Attorney Bruce Wagman represents The Humane Society of the United States and Front Range Equine Rescue, two of five organizations suing the USDA. They are requesting a temporary restraining order, and Wagman explained the arguments.

"Horses in America who are slaughtered are from a variety of sources in which they are given a number of drugs, many of which adulterate their meat and make them dangerous for consumers and for the environment when the byproducts of slaughter are disseminated into the ground and the groundwater," Wagman said.

The plaintiffs allege that the USDA failed to adequately assess these concerns and their possible danger to the public, Wagman said. Since Congress has not acted to ban horse slaughter or inspections, the USDA contends that the Food Safety Inspection Service is legally required to issue a grant of inspection to Valley Meat for horse slaughter. The USDA is considering similar permits for plants in Missouri and Iowa.

Since Valley Meat has had environmental problems in the past, Phil Carter, campaign manager for Animal Protection of New Mexico's equine-protection program, said that may be another reason for delay.

"Valley Meat has had multiple violations and fines by New Mexico Environment Department," he said. "And so we're urging strict scrutiny of issuing wastewater or other disposal permits."

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King said he grew up in a ranching family, doesn't view horses as food animals and opposes the idea of their slaughter. As AG, he said any slaughterhouse must comply with New Mexico laws, and added that he has concerns about how food processing regulations will apply to horses.

"There is a fair amount of literature that shows that most horses have been exposed to a variety of drugs that you would not expose a food animal to," he said. "The most notable one is 'bute' that's used on race horses. If part of their plan is to take retired racehorses and slaughter those horses for food, you can't sell food that has 'bute' in it."

"Bute" is short for Phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory drug commonly given to horses and not approved for human use.

Renee Blake, Public News Service - NM