For more than a year, local slaughterhouse Valley Meat Co. has had an application pending with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service to begin slaughtering horses for human consumption.
Owner Rick De Los Santos recently filed a lawsuit against the USDA, alleging it has failed to comply with federal laws and provide equine inspection services at the facility.
The company, which has processed beef cattle for more than 20 years and at one time employed more than 40 people, ceased operation since submitting the application. De Los Santos said the longer it has to wait for inspections, the more money the slaughterhouse loses.
“We sat here for a long time, waiting,” he said. “To have a facility like this not doing anything for a year takes a toll on finances, but we think we’re doing the right thing.”
A. Blair Dunn, attorney for Valley Meat Co., said the lawsuit, filed in October, simply asks the USDA to follow Congress’ orders. The company is still waiting for an answer to the lawsuit.
Horse rescue organizations in the state can only hold so many horses, De Los Santos said, and more than 9,000 horses have already been shipped to Mexico for slaughter this year, taking jobs and money away from the state.
Recently, a piece of legislation that would have requested the state Department of Agriculture to study the feasibility of horse slaughter and meat processing in the state died in the New Mexico House of Representatives.
Last year, news of De Los Santos’ application made national and international headlines and stirred public outcry, with Gov. Susana Martinez asking the USDA to deny his application. De Los Santos said the company still receives calls from protesters.
“The outcry of the activists is louder than that of small businesses,” he said. “If they were truly against slaughter — thousands of cows are killed in this country. They pick on us because we’re the little guy.”
He said while the issue has become politicized, “politics has no place in the USDA.”
The company’s effort has received support from the New Mexico Horse Council and the American Quarter Horse Association, he said, as well as members of the Roswell community, who recognize it would create jobs and put money into economy.
“The people down here in southern New Mexico, the farming and ranching and working people, they know,” he said. “Let us get to work. We’re not trying to do anything illegal.”
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