A New Mexico abattoir is gearing up to begin slaughtering horses from January 1, as the state’s attorney general reveals plans to sue the firm in a bid to prevent it opening.
The owner of Valley Meat Co, Rick De Los Santos, told KOB Eyewitness News 4 that the plant had 15 staff ready to work and it planned to open on January 1.
“We’re going to start off really slow, to get the training and process out of the way to make sure everything is in order,” he said.
Most of the meat from the Roswell plant would be going to Belgium, he said, with contracts also in place for Russia and China.
He told the television station there was no way the plant could slaughter enough horses to meet all the contracts.
The plant, which would be guarded 24 hours a day, had a capacity for 100 to 120 horses a day, he said, with an estimated profit of $US350 per horse.
However, the plant’s reopening may not be plain sailing, with state attorney general Gary King announcing today that he was suing Valley Meat Company. King said the action was aimed at stopping the company butchering horses for food.
At a news conference, King said he had filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the plant from opening.
“I took this action because horse slaughter presents a genuine risk to New Mexicans’ health and to our natural resources,” King said.
“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.
King said horses in the US were given the drugs without regard to whether their meat might be consumed later, as they were not raised to enter the food chain.
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 he also initiated the lawsuit because Valley Meat had a poor track record of compliance with environmental and safety laws, racking up literally thousands of violations over the years.
The company has requested a state permit that is required before it can discharge wastewater, but has now stated publicly that it will begin operating on January 1, 2014, whether or not it receives the permit, King noted.
“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,” King said.
“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.”
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 the last week, clearing the way for plants to open, even though the lawsuit has yet to be concluded.
Two other plants have approval. One has since decided to process cattle and the other is awaiting developments.
It remains unclear how Valley Meats will handle its wastewater. It does have the option of trucking it to an approved handling facility.