Valley Meat Co. is set to begin operating Aug. 5, the plant’s attorney said Thursday.
But the opening depends on an Aug. 2 federal hearing, when an Albuquerque judge overseeing a lawsuit by animal protection groups will decide whether to halt operations for another six months to a year.
Attorney A. Blair Dunn, representing the horse meat processing plant located near Roswell and another plant awaiting a permit in Gallatin, Mo., said Valley Meat is hiring workers and will be ready to go if the judge finds in favor of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Everything is on track,” Dunn said.
Animal rights groups filed a lawsuit earlier this month to halt the slaughter of horses nationally.
The Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue, Marin Humane Society, the Horses for Life Foundation and Return to Freedom, and other individual plaintiffs argued that the USDA did not perform proper environmental reviews before issuing Valley Meat its grant of inspection.
The USDA issued Valley Meat its grant of inspection June 28, more than 14 months after the plant first applied. The plant’s owner overcame several legal hurdles— including filing lawsuits against the USDA—to become the nation’s first company to be permitted since the practice was stopped in 2007.
Valley Meat has ended its latest lawsuit filed against the USDA, arguing that the government’s permitting time was excessive, Dunn said. With the new court action, Valley Meat and the USDA are in the same corner.
“In this case, we’re now on the same side as the government,” Dunn said. “We agree they went through the necessary steps.”
Three Northwestern American Indian tribal governments also asked the court to intervene in the lawsuit Thursday, including Warm Springs and Yakima tribes in Oregon, Dunn said.
The judge will decide Aug. 2 whether to place a temporary restraining order, halting operations for Valley Meat and Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, Iowa, for six months to a year. Other plants nationally, including the family-owned company in Missouri, are waiting for permits to begin operations.
The plant’s owner, Rick De Los Santos, plans to hire 40 to 100 employees in the next year when the plant is operational. The facility formally processed beef at the site.
De Los Santos, a 35-year veteran of the meat-processing business, plans to have animals delivered by a third party, process the product and deliver it to a third party for sale abroad.