An August 2 court hearing before a federal judge in New Mexico appears to be the last major hurdle remaining in the way of horse slaughter plants returning to the United States.
The judge will decide whether to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent plants from opening.
The bid for the restraining order has been filed by the Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue, the Marin Humane Society, the Horses for Life Foundation, Return to Freedom, and five private individuals.
They are suing the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the National Environmental Protection Act, alleging the agency failed to conduct the necessary environmental review before authorizing horse slaughterhouses to operate.
Reports out of the US suggest the Valley Meat Company plant in Roswell, New Mexico, and Responsible Transportation’s plant in Sigourney, Iowa, are set to open on August 5, just three days after the scheduled court hearing.
The USDA issued a so-called “grant of inspection” to each of the plants, saying it was required by law to grant the inspections if all federal requirements were met. It said it was obliged to assign meat inspectors to the plants.
The department said in a statement: “The Administration has requested Congress to reinstate the ban on horse slaughter. Until Congress acts, the department must continue to comply with current law.”
Slaughter plants have not operated on US soil for six years. The refusal by Congress to fund federal plant inspections effectively prevented the operation of plants, but the removal of the defunding language in an agriculture bill in 2011 opened the doors to the resumption of slaughter.
The animal protection groups challenging the approvals say the federal government could spend millions of taxpayer dollars to start inspections at horse slaughter plants, only to have Congress terminate the process in the coming months.
Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation with the Humane Society, said: “Horse slaughter plants pollute local water bodies with blood and offal, permeate the air with a foul stench, diminish property values and put horses through misery.
“The USDA’s decision to visit these horrors on the citizens of New Mexico, Missouri, and Iowa – without even conducting an environmental review first – is irresponsible, and a clear violation of federal law.”
Front Range Equine Rescue president Hilary Wood said: “The USDA has failed to consider the basic fact that horses are not raised as a food animal.
“Horse owners provide their horses with a number of substances dangerous to human health. To blatantly ignore this fact jeopardizes human health as well as the environment surrounding a horse slaughter plant.
“The negative consequences of horse slaughter will be felt immediately and over the long term if allowed to resume in the US. America’s horses are not food.”
The founder of the Horses For Life Foundation, Allondra Stevens, said: “The USDA’s decision to grant horse slaughter inspections is an outright insult and a betrayal to the overwhelming majority of Americans who are against horse slaughter, to the welfare of the animals themselves, and to consumer and environmental safety.
“With the environmental and food safety risks of horse slaughter operations, the FSIS is leading the USA down a reckless and dangerous path due to the toxic byproducts of horse slaughter.
“As a nation of horse lovers, our time and resources will be better spent thinking outside the slaughterbox, working to implement more programs and infrastructures that assist with horse rescue, retention and retirement solutions.”
Return To Freedom president Neda DeMayo said: “We join 80 percent of Americans in their opposition to horse slaughter. America is the original home of the horse and has never been a horse-eating culture.
“Horses have been our companions, fought battles with us, worked from sun up to sun down by our side. They have never abandoned us and we will not abandon them now. We will not have their blood on our hands.”