A federal judge denied a lawsuit Friday by animal rights groups against the USDA, lifting the final barrier for Roswell to become home to possibly the nation’s first horse slaughterhouse to open since 2007.
“This is great for Valley Meat,” said attorney Blair Dunn. “This means they go to work. They’re going to try to get open as soon as they can.”
Dunn represents Valley Meat and a second operation, Rains Natural Meats of Gallatin, Mo.
Valley Meat’s owner Rick De Los Santos is lining up horses, employees and working with the USDA to prepare to open.
Valley Meat could begin processing horses within the next week, Dunn said.
“It’s been an uphill battle,” Dunn said. “It looks like the law is finally headed in the right direction.”
Albuquerque Federal District Court Judge Christina Armijo ordered to deny a lawsuit filed by the Humane Society of the United States and other groups against the USDA. The suit sought to stop the federal government from inspecting horse meat plants until the USDA completed exhaustive and lengthy environmental reviews.
The ruling removed a temporary restraining order placed on Valley Meat and two other plants in Iowa and Missouri that had been issued grants of inspection. The plants were forced to put off plans for horse slaughter operations Aug. 2.
Dunn said he thought Armijo’s opinion was well reasoned and thorough.
“Valley and Rains are very grateful for the hard work and thought that Judge Armijo put into this decision,” Dunn said.
The animal rights groups could file an appeal with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to seek another restriction, Dunn said. But, the success of an appeal is not likely.
“I think the judge has done a good job,” Dunn said. “I think the companies will go ahead and open.”
Friday’s ruling was a milestone for Valley Meat in De Los Santos’ nearly two-year struggle to convert his cattle slaughter operation. The company has dealt with numerous permit logjams with the USDA, federal lawsuits, a state wastewater denial and hearing, death threats and arson at the plant on Cedarvale Road.
The company received more threats last week.
“This is not the end of the struggle,” Dunn said.
Valley Meat finished its wastewater hearing with New Mexico Environment Department last week. It expects to receive a final decision on whether the state will approve a permit by February. Until then, De Los Santos will remove wastewater from the plant by truck.
County Commissioner Kim Chesser said he wished De Los Santos the best.
“I really hope that they keep their ducks in a row and keep this thing going,” Chesser said. “They’re really going to be scrutinized from people all over the United States. I think this is good for Chaves County.”
This is a business the agricultural industry has needed for a long time, he said. Hundreds of horses pass through the Roswell area weekly on the way to slaughterhouses in Mexico.
“I would really like to see us be doing this in the United States,” Chesser said. “People are going to be up in arms for a while, but in time, I feel like this will blow over and everybody will settle down and go about their own business and let him be about his own business.”
Chaves County Sheriff Rob Coon said his department plans to patrol the area in front of the plant in the next week, if any protestors or news media decide to visit the small stretch of country road.
“We’re just going to try to keep everybody safe out there,” Coon said. “They’ve got to use good judgment while they’re out there.”
Vehicles will not be allowed to stop on the roadway or on the shoulder, or allowed to park anywhere by the main gate. Traffic or people cannot impede any trucks trying to drive in or out of the fenced property, Coon said.
Drivers also can’t park vehicles from the beginning of the fence line to the end of the fence line, he said.