Judge blocks planned horse slaughter at 2 plants

Associated Press, source: Washington Times

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal judge on Friday temporarily halted plans by companies in New Mexico and Iowa to start slaughtering horses next week.

U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo issued a restraining order in a lawsuit brought by The Humane Society of the United States and other groups in case that has sparked an emotional national debate about how best to deal with the tens of thousands of unwanted and abandoned horses across the country.

Armijo issued a restraining order and scheduled another hearing for Monday in a lawsuit by The Humane Society of the United States and other groups that are strongly opposed to the idea of resuming horse slaughter for the first time in seven years in the U.S.

The groups contend the Department of Agriculture failed to do the proper environmental studies before issuing permits that allowed companies in Iowa and New Mexico to open horse slaughterhouses. The companies had said they wanted to open as soon as Monday.

The horse meat would be exported for human consumption and for use as zoo and other animal food.

Valley Meat Co. of Roswell, N.M., has been at the fore of the fight, pushing for more than a year for permission to convert its cattle plant into a horse slaughterhouse. Its plans ignited a divisive debate over whether horses are livestock or domestic companions, and how best to deal with all the neglected and often-starving horses.

After more than a year of delays and a lawsuit by Valley Meat, the Department of Agriculture in June gave the company the go-ahead to begin slaughtering horses. USDA officials said they were legally obligated to issue the permits, even though the Obama administration opposes horse slaughter and is seeking to reinstate a congressional ban that was lifted in 2011.

Another permit was approved a few days later for Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, Iowa.

The move has divided horse rescue and animal welfare groups, ranchers, politicians and Indian tribes about what is the most humane way to deal with the country’s horse overpopulation.

Some Native American tribes, including the Navajo and Yakama nations, are among those who are pushing to let the companies open. They say the exploding horse populations on their reservations are trampling and overgrazing rangelands, decimating forage resources for cattle and causing widespread environmental damage. The Navajo Nation, the nation’s largest Indian reservation, estimates there are 75,000 horses on its land, many of which are dehydrated and starving after years of drought.

On the other side, actor Robert Redford, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, current Gov. Susana Martinez and Attorney General Gary King are among those who strongly oppose a return to domestic horse slaughter, citing the animals’ iconic role as companion animals in the West.

“Horse slaughter has no place in our culture,” Redford said in a statement last week in announcing formation of a foundation that has joined the fight. “It is cruel, inhumane, and perpetuates abuse and neglect of these beloved animals. We must oppose it with all of our might.”

Supporters of domestic slaughter point to a June 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office that shows cases of horse abuse and abandonment on a steady rise since Congress effectively banned horse slaughter by cutting funding for USDA inspection programs in 2006.

They also cite USDA statistics compiled by the Equine Welfare Alliance that shows the number of U.S. horses sent to other countries for slaughter has nearly tripled since domestic horse slaughter ceased, with many of those being shipped thousands of miles to points south of the border to be slaughtered in unregulated and inhumane facilities.

They said it is better to slaughter the horses in regulated and humane domestic facilities than to let them starve or be shipped to Mexico.

Navajo Nation will support NM horse processing plant

By Rob Nikolewski, New Mexico Watch Dog

The Navajo Nation is about to wade into the heated debate over a horse-meat processing plant in Roswell and will support Valley Meat Co. becoming the first horse slaughterhouse in the U.S. in seven years.

“They’re eating up the land and drinking all the water,” Erny Zah, spokesman for Navajo Nation President Ben Shelley told New Mexico Watchdog of the feral horses on Navajo Nation land that encompasses 27,425 square miles, including parts of Arizona and Utah as well as a large section of northwest New Mexico.

Zah estimated there are 20,000 to 30,000 “feral horses on our lands,” and that Navajo Nation lawyers in Washington, D.C., are in the process of finalizing a letter that Shelly will sign in support of the horse slaughter facility “with the next couple of days.”

COMING OUT IN FAVOR: The Navajo Nation is about to come out in favor of a controversial horse slaughter facility in Roswell, NM. Photo from Facebook.

COMING OUT IN FAVOR: The Navajo Nation is about to come out in favor of a controversial horse slaughter facility in Roswell, NM. Photo from Facebook.


“I’m sympathetic to the native nations but all this is going to do is make New Mexico the slaughter state,” said Phil Carter of Animal Protection New Mexico, one of the facility’s opponents. “We have to move forward beyond this outdated and cruel slaughter model.”

The debate over the facility in Roswell has sparked heated arguments that extend beyond state borders.

Opponents of the facility include Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, former Gov. Bill Richardson, state Attorney General Gary King and State Land Commissioner Ray Powell, as well as actor Robert Redford and animal rights groups. The Humane Society of the United States is one of a slew of plaintiffs seeking an injunction to stop the company from opening its slaughterhouse operations.

Supporters say that given the rising cost of hay, horses have been abandoned and left to starve. They argue it’s better to have unwanted and dying horses killed in a federall -inspected facility in the U.S. than have them sent to plants in places like Mexico, where they often meet gruesome deaths in unsanitary conditions.

“Which would you rather do, put them down in a humane fashion or let them starve to death,” the facility’s attorney Blair Dunn said earlier this month.

The debate has become more intense as Valley Meat Co. hopes to open as soon as Aug. 5. A federal court hearing is set for Friday in Albuquerque

Last Saturday, a fire broke out at the company and officials suspect it may have been deliberately set. The blaze burned part of the exterior of Valley Meat Co.’s building and damaged a refrigeration unit. A Chaves County sheriff’s lieutenant described the fire as “very suspicious.”

“It was an act of domestic terrorism,” Dunn told the Texas-New Mexico Newspapers Partnership Tuesday.

Zah said the Navajo Nation’s decision to weigh in on the matter is “more economic” than anything else.

“We’re already in a drought,” Zah said. “We already have our registered cattle and sheep and registered horses to care for. We’re concerned about water and vegetation” being eaten by feral horses.

Zah said a horse slaughter facility in Roswell is simply closer and more cost-effective.

“We need some place to take them,” he said. “There are other options but they are more costly … The plant Roswell provides us this opportunity.”

But Carter says there are other options, including injecting horses with contraceptives, gelding stallions and euthanizing them.

But isn’t that expensive?

Carter points to the New Mexico Equine Protection Fund that his group administers and says the cost to tending to feral horses has been reduced to about $200 per head. “And there’s no reason those costs couldn’t come down more,” Carter said.

“They’re sacred animals,” Zah acknowledged but added, “We also have a kinship with our land. There’s a delicate balance there. Everything is related, everything is intertwined. When one is out of balance, we have to take care of that delicate balance.”

Supporters of the plant have estimated there are 9,000 feral horses on Mescalero Apache land in southern New Mexico. Numerous phone calls from New Mexico Watchdog to Alfred LaPaz, acting president of the Mescalero tribe, seeking comment have gone unanswered.