A temporary restraining order has been issued against a horse slaughter plant planning to open in New Mexico, pending a court hearing this Friday.
Valley Meat Company in Roswell had intended to start operations on January 1.
State District Judge Matthew Wilson issued the temporary order on Monday in response to a suit by state Attorney General Gary King.
Valley Meat Company has been asked to show cause on Friday why the order should not be extended or a preliminary injunction issued.
In the lawsuit, King asserts that Valley Meat Company, which previously operated a cattle abattoir until March 2012, had failed to comply with state environmental and safety laws over the years.
“I took this action because horse slaughter presents a genuine risk to New Mexicans’ health and to our natural resources,” King said at a recent press conference announcing the legal challenge.
“Valley Meat Company’s record of violating the state’s laws regarding food, water quality, and unfair business practices, poses serious dangers to public health and safety, to the natural environment, and to the public’s use and enjoyment of public resources, namely groundwater and land.”
King said horses were routinely given drugs that were banned for use in food animals and were not approved for human use, either. Most horses lacked veterinary records that would help regulators and consumers decide if their meat was safe, he said.
“For these reasons, I concluded earlier this year that horse meat would likely constitute an ‘adulterated’ product under the New Mexico Food Act, and therefore would be prohibited.”
King said Valley Meat Company had a poor track record of compliance with environmental and safety laws, racking up literally thousands of violations over the years.
“Our environmental laws are on the books to protect precious natural resources, especially ground water.
“Companies that willfully ignore those laws need to be held to account before they cause serious damage to public health or our environment.
“Commercial horse slaughter is completely at odds with our traditions and our values as New Mexicans. It also poses a tangible risk to consumers and to our environment. I will continue to fight on behalf of the health and well-being of New Mexicans and the protection of our groundwater and other natural resources.”
Valley Meat Company attorney Blair Dunn told the Albuquerque Journal that the company expected to wait to start operations until the firm had clarity on two issues – King’s lawsuit and a wastewater discharge permit required by the state Environment Department.
Dunn told the journal that the allegations against the company in King’s lawsuit were not substantiated.
Plants planning to slaughter horses also face a challenge in the federal court system from the Humane Society of the United States and other equine advocates. They argue the US Department of Agriculture should not have given the nod to federally required plant inspections as it failed to obtain proper environmental assessments before doing so.
A temporary restraining order was issued in the case preventing the plants from opening, but this was rolled back in mid-December, clearing the way for plants to open, even though the lawsuit has yet to be concluded.
Two other plants, aside from Valley Meat Company, have approval. One has since decided to process cattle and the other is awaiting developments.