Owners of Valley Meat Co. in Roswell are moving ahead with plans to open their local slaughterhouse to start processing horse meat, possibly by the end of April, despite a pair of bills introduced by Congress Wednesday that could all but shut its doors.
Following months of legal wrangling, owner Rick De Los Santos expects the U.S. Department of Agriculture to finally issue a Grant of Inspection, allowing the company to begin production, said attorney A. Blair Dunn.
“They’re moving along as planned,” Dunn said. “They’ve done everything they’re supposed to do. They’re going to continue on and get ready to go into business.”
De Los Santos, a longtime rancher who moved to Roswell 25 years ago, processed beef cattle and employed more than 40 people at the location. Valley Meat ceased operation before submitting the new application.
If authorized to begin operations, Valley Meat expects to employ 40 to 100 workers at its site on Cedarvale Road, Dunn said. The company does not plan to sell its product within the U.S, but to countries where a market exists for the meat—such as in Europe, Japan and China.
The company estimates taking in $10 million in business.
“It’s a revenue generator, and that’s taxable income for the area,” Dunn said. “I think the company want to do the right thing from an agricultural standpoint and a horse welfare standpoint.”
But after months of legal battles, Valley Meat once again finds itself in the spotlight after Wednesday’s introduction of two Congressional bills by Sens. Mary Landriew, D- La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Reps. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakow-sky, D-Ill.
If passed, the Safeguard American Food Exports Act (SAFE) legislation would stop the transport American equine or equine parts in interstate or foreign commerce for human consumption, and permanently stop horse slaughter in the U.S. The measure would stall reopening horse slaughter plants in the U.S. and end transportation of horses to Mexico and Canada for slaughter there.
Valley Meat’s attorney said the latest attempt to thwart business is troublesome.
“It’s certainly very scary for us and for Roswell in general,” Dunn said. “(Valley Meat) has done everything they were supposed to do. They relied on Congress. Now, we have people come in and make more of an emotional decision rather than a decision based on science or a factual decision.”
Congress basically outlawed horse slaughtering by barring USDA from spending any money on horsemeat inspections since 2007. The owner sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture in October for failing to provide equine inspection services at the facility.
Valley Meat was one of several companies to fight the USDA to re-establish inspections of horse-slaughter facilities, according to Justin DeJong, a spokesman for the agriculture department.
The slaughterhouses were required to complete necessary technical re-quirements and the Food Safety Inspection Service had to complete inspector training, he said. But once complete, the USDA had no choice but to move forward with the inspections.
Valley Meat has wanted to “do the right thing from an agricultural standpoint and a horse welfare standpoint all along,” Dunn said.