NM Firm Requests Horse Slaughter Inspection

Las Cruces: A Roswell company has filed an application that puts it on track to become the first horse slaughterhouse since 2006, according to several animal welfare groups.

Horses would be "custom slaughtered" and processed for human consumption, according to the Humane Society of the United States and Front Range Equine Rescue.

Officials with Valley Meat Co., located on Cedarvale Road east of Roswell, did not respond to calls seeking comment on Wednesday and Thursday, April 12. Messages to the US Department of Agriculture were not returned.

However, documents obtained by the Colorado-based Front Range Equine Rescue, through a federal Freedom of Information Act request, show Valley Meat Co. general manager Ricardo De Los Santos submitted an application, dated March 1, seeking USDA inspections of the 7,290-square-foot plant on a 10-acre site.

While horse slaughter has not been directly banned in the United States, it effectively has been blocked since 2006 when Congress chose not to provide funds for USDA inspections of horses bound for slaughter.

However, funds for such inspections were put back in place in recently signed agriculture appropriation legislation. The agriculture spending bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama last fall.

More than 100,000 American horses are shipped out of the country to plants in Canada and Mexico for slaughter each year, and their meat is bound for markets in Europe and Asia, according to the Humane Society.

The Humane Society, Front Range Equine Rescue and other groups are pushing the federal government to ban the export of American horses for the foreign meat market and to formally prohibit the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the United States.

"Horse slaughter for food is a national disgrace, given the iconic nature of American horses and the especially brutal methods used to kill them," Front Range Equine Rescue said in a news release. Critics also contend former companion, working, racing and wild horses should not be used as human food because drugs routinely given to such horses throughout their lives are potentially dangerous to humans.

Elisabeth Jennings, executive director of Animal Protection of New Mexico, said residents of a state with roots in cowboy culture "have a deep and enduring appreciation for horses, especially given their important role in our state's rural way of life."

"It is an affront to our citizens to suggest bringing the cruel, dangerous and polluting enterprise of horse slaughter to New Mexico as we celebrate our state's centennial," she said.

Details about the extent of the proposed horse slaughtering operation were unavailable Thursday, but the application says the plant would only handle horses, not cattle or chickens. The plant would operate eight hours a day, 52 weeks a year, according to the application.

Roswell mayor Del Jurney and city manager Larry Fry noted the slaughterhouse is outside the city limits and said they have no information about the proposal.

"At this point, anything we say would be premature, because we just don't have information," Fry said.

San Francisco-based attorney Bruce Wagman, an attorney for Front Range, said Valley Meat first filed an application for USDA inspections in December, and then a second application in March.

Email correspondence obtained by the group shows company representatives have been talking for months to officials from the Denver office of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which inspects animals and meats in American slaughterhouses.

One January email from an FSIS official said: "Public wants assurances there is no way for horse meat to get into their beef products."

A state Livestock Board investigation into the fate of horses at a Valencia County livestock auction has been forwarded to the 13th Judicial District Attorney's Office.

A number of the horses at auction were destined for a slaughterhouse in Mexico.

Source: Albuquerque Journal, NM