Evidence of environmental breaches by horse slaughter plants that operated in the United States before 2007 was enough to sway a judge to grant a temporary restraining order preventing two abattoirs from opening.
US District Judge Christina Armijo issued the temporary restraining order on Friday, just days before the Valley Meat Company plant in Roswell, New Mexico, and Responsible Transportation’s plant in Sigourney, Iowa, were reportedly set to open.
Front Range Equine Rescue, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and other horse advocates filed suit against the USDA last month, arguing the agency failed to conduct the required environmental review before agreeing to place inspectors in horse slaughter plants.
The injunction will remain in place for 30 days, at which time the court will decide whether to extend the order.
Judge Armijo, in her ruling, said the plaintiffs had submitted evidence of environmental harm at commercial horse slaughter facilities that operated in the US before the defunding of inspectors in fiscal-year 2006.
“This environmental harm included blood spills, improper disposal of animal parts and carcasses, noxious odors, and the leeching of horse effluent into the local water supply and waterways.
“These harms are compounded by the presence of chemical residues in equines that are not otherwise present in other amenable species subject to slaughter.
“Evidence has been proffered that a majority of horses subject to slaughter are administered a variety of pharmaceutical drugs not approved for use in food animals, the effects of which could adversely affect the physical environment.
“The court concludes that plaintiffs have fulfilled their burden to prove that environmental harm is likely to occur in the absence of the issuance of a temporary restraining order.”
Judge Armijo, who was sitting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, continued: “The court recognizes that Valley Meat and Responsible Transportation will suffer significant economic harm if they are prohibited from operating during the pendency of the present litigation.
“However, the court concludes that the environmental harms posed by commercial horse slaughter without adequate NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] review outweigh the legitimately incurred costs to defendants resulting from a temporary restraining order.”
HSUS president and chief executive Wayne Pacelle said of the ruling: “We’ve won a temporary but life-saving reprieve for horses, and it’s good news indeed that the kill boxes in New Mexico and Iowa will be empty of horses in the weeks ahead.
“We’ll continue to make arguments when our case resumes in a month that these plants cannot legally operate because of inadequate environmental review.”
The case arose after the US Department of Agriculture (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.
The plaintiffs argued that such inspections should not have been approved without appropriate environmental reviews of potential harm.
It is understood up to six firms have applied to the USDA to have inspectors at horse slaughter plants.
Judge Armijo’s ruling can be read here.