A statement made by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, Monday, that claimed horsemeat processing within the state was illegal, was nothing more than an opinion and ultimately holds no legal weight, h is spokesman said Tuesday.
“His opinion does not carry the force of law in New Mexico,” said Attorney spokesman Phil Sisneros. “No AG’s does.”
But the fact that King—a Democrat— faces leaving office next year and plans to run for governor may be key in his decision to continue public opinions on the national issue of Valley Meat Co.’s plans.
King said in the statement: “Our legal analysis concludes that state law does not allow for production of meat that is chemically tainted under federal regulations. New Mexico law is very clear that it would be prohibited and illegal.”
The plant has become a lightning rod for politicians across the country. National and state leaders have thrown down on the issue in an attempt to halt the practice before it starts, while owner Rick De Los Santos continues to wait for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve its permit for inspection.
De Los Santos’ attorney, A. Blair Dunn, said Valley Meat Co. is not concerned with King’s collection of policy facts but the political impacts to King’s actions are concerning.
“There is no legal significance to his opinion,” Dunn said. “There is nothing that we don’t have a test for and we don’t watch to make sure those residues show up.
On a political landscape there are ramifications to what he is saying,” Dunn said. “He discusses all these things that are administered to a spectrum of animals in animal agriculture.
“For him to make some sort of broad, sweeping, generalized statement … he could shut down the entire dairy industry in Roswell. He could shut down the entire cattle industry across the state,” Dunn said. “It just was not a smart thing for him to have done. It’s unwarranted.”
King’s spokesman said that although King has future political plans after his term ends, he did not believe politics played a part in the AG’s continued public statements against horsemeat.
“His family has been in ranching his entire life,” Sisneros said. “He has had these views his entire career as a public servant. Politics has nothing to do with it.”
King’s father, former Gov. Bruce King, owned an expansive ranch east of Albuquerque, Sisneros said. King also earned a doctorate degree in chemistry.
“I mean, he should know,” Sisneros said.
However, in King’s findings that were attached to his opinion, he sites the Food and Drug Administration, the USDA, a Scientific Journal article, a News-Medical Net web-site, and a citation from Webster’s Dictionary.
Sisneros said he could not recall when King had last visited Roswell.
“That, I don’t know,” Sisneros said. “I’m not sure when his last trip to Roswell was but he frequents the entire state very much so throughout the year.”
King is not against new business, but Valley Meat’s idea to slaughter horses is not in good taste for New Mexico, Sisneros said.
“No. 1, this plant will probably employ a total of maybe 20 people, so we’re not talking about a huge industry,” he said. “No. 2, I think the issue itself overshadows that possibility. But it doesn’t mean that he is in any way anti-jobs or anything like that of course. He is just the opposite. This particular business, it doesn’t meet the criteria for a sustainable business that is actually palatable for this state or indeed most of the country.
People are not willing to be a part of horses being slaughtered for food no matter how many jobs it brings,” he said.
The company actually expects to employ 40-50 people when it opens. By the end of its first year, that number should reach 100, Dunn said.
Valley Meat submitted its application for a grant of inspection to the USDA 15 months ago. The company filed a lawsuit in February against the USDA alleging it failed to comply with federal laws to provide inspection services.
Continued political wrangling at the federal level has delayed the permit, Dunn said.
“It has appeared (the USDA) has purposely dragged their feet in order to play politics with this issue to change a law they didn’t like,” Dunn said. “And, they have exposed the federal government to a liability of $8 million that is taxable income that could have come into Roswell, instead of acting legally and scientifically on it.”
The 7,200-square-foot plant was inspected in late April but was later told a lawsuit filed by environmental groups required Clean Water Act reviews.
Monday, Valley Meat received a USDA notice to either certify that the plant will not discharge into U.S. waters or file for a Clean Water Act permit.
“It’s never been a requirement,” Dunn said. “The plant’s been out there for 20 years. This is more bad faith by the USDA. But Valley Meat is going to go ahead and do it.”
Dunn said he plans to file a letter with the USDA in hopes it satisfies the latest request. The plant was promised this letter would meet its final federal requirements in order to get the grant of inspection to begin operations.
“Of course, they said that a year ago,” Dunn said. “We don’t really believe them on that.”