The attorney for Valley Meat Co. said Friday that the local slaughterhouse may soon be able to start processing horse meat, as government officials have indicated it may receive a grant of inspection.
For more than a year, 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.
In October, owner Rick De Los Santos filed a lawsuit against the USDA, alleging it failed to comply with federal laws and provide equine inspection services at the facility. A. Blair Dunn, attorney for Valley Meat Co., said the USDA originally had 60 days to respond to the lawsuit, but the Department of Justice recently asked for additional time.
He said the company accepted because it was indicated the USDA would be willing to give a grant of inspection within 45 to 60 days. The move was “pretty unexpected,” he said.
“It came out of left field that the U.S. government was willing to move forward,” Dunn said. “But there’ s no such thing as a sure guarantee.”
The slaughterhouse has been ready to begin processing since last May, he said, and officials had already completed a walk-through of the facility and found it to be up to code.
“Everything is good to go,” he said. “It’s just a matter of them reviewing their policies and issuing a grant of inspection.”
A grant of inspection would give the facility official inspectors to inspect animals before and after processing.
“It’s the same way of saying, ‘We’re giving you a license to operate,’” Dunn said. “‘You’re open for business and your product can be sold.’”
If permitted, he said the facility would be able to begin work immediately. The company, which formerly processed beef cattle for more than 20 years and at one time employed more than 40 people, ceased operation since submitting the application.
News of De Los Santos’ application made national and international headlines and sparked public outcry last year, with Gov. Susana Martinez asking the USDA to deny it. De Los Santos has said the company still receives calls from protesters.
Valley understands that horsemeat is a sensitive issue, Dunn said, and has experts to train workers to ensure humane handling of horses.
“Ultimately, Valley Meat not only wants to do it right, but it wants to be the best at what they do,” he said.
The company does not plan to sell within the U.S., exporting instead to countries where there is a market for horsemeat, such as those in Europe, Japan and China.
“We’re very blessed as a nation that we can be picky about our protein options,” Dunn said. “But Americans do prefer beef.”