New Mexico’s attorney general has sounded a warning over the legal risks around slaughtering horses treated with drugs which are banned from the human food chain.
The legal opinion from Gary King comes as the Valley Meat Company presses on with plans to open a horse slaughter operation in the state, near Roswell.
The company has sought US Department of Agriculture approval to operate.
King’s office provided the opinion in response to a question from state senator Richard Martinez.
King’s office formed the view that horse meat could be defined as an adulterated food product in the state if contaminated by drug residues, such as phenylbutazone, and could not be manufactured in New Mexico even if intended for export.
The four-page letter from his office, signed by Assistant Attorney General Zachary Shandler said: “Our legal analysis concludes that state law does not allow for production of meat that is chemically tainted under federal regulations.
“New Mexico law is very clear that it would be prohibited and illegal.
“Based on our examination of the relevant constitutional, statutory and case law authorities, and the information available to us at this time, we conclude horse meat from US horses would fit the legal definition of an adulterated food product under the NM Food Act if the meat came from horses that had been treated with chemical substances that the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed unfit for human consumption.
“We also conclude that if horse meat were an adulterated food product, the NM Food Act would prohibit its manufacture, sale or delivery.
“The act applies to the ‘manufacture’ of food in New Mexico regardless of where the food is ultimately sold or consumed. Therefore, we conclude the manufacture of horse meat from US horses, if adulterated as stated above, is prohibited and illegal under the Act.
“A violation of the Act is a serious matter and may result in a criminal misdemeanor charge, imposition of monetary fines and seizure of the food product.”
Representatives of the Valley Meat Company has indicated that horses would be screened for the banned chemicals.
The Humane Society of the United States welcomed King’s ruling.
The society’s senior vice president of animal protection litigation, Jonathan Lovvorn, said: “Slaughtering horses for human consumption is barbaric, inhumane and unsafe for consumers, and Attorney General King is right to deem the practice illegal under state law.
“Killing horses for their meat in New Mexico — or anywhere else in the US — is clearly a misguided enterprise.”