Judge delays hearing on horse slaughterhouse

January 3, 2014 • Local News

A Santa Fe district judge decided Friday to delay Attorney General Gary King’s request to permanently stop a Roswell company from opening a horse slaughterhouse after his attorneys admitted [auth] they were not prepared for the hearing.

District Judge Matthew Wilson extended a temporary ban on Valley Meat Company’s operations for 10 days.

“The plaintiff indicated that he did not have witnesses ready for today’s hearing and that he was not ready to proceed to a hearing on the preliminary injunction,” Wilson wrote in his order to reschedule the hearing for Jan. 13.

Wilson found that immediate and irreparable injury may result if the temporary restraining order issued last week was not extended and that the public interest “is better served by strict compliance with the state’s laws in prevention of possible unsafe food from entering the food supply and possible damage to the water supply.”

Wilson also ordered that the court will consider Valley Meat’s motion to dismiss the case on grounds that the court lacks jurisdiction and that the court should require a security of bond from the attorney general in the matter.

“The attorney general’s office showed up unprepared and asked the judge to not allow us to present testimony on all of the stuff they’ve been basically ambushing us with,” said Valley Meat’s attorney A. Blair Dunn. “Since we weren’t allowed to put on our evidence, the judge went ahead and extended the (temporary restraining order) … we’re going to have a full evidentiary hearing on the 13th. We’re pleased with that.”

Any time a judge wants more facts and more explanation, he is doing what he is supposed to do, Dunn said.

“This is no different than federal court. When the facts and the law actually make it in front of a judge instead of just the AG or HSUS — or whoever it is screaming — the judges have always gone with us,” Dunn said. “And we feel very confident, because we know what the facts actually are. We know what the law actually is. We’re not running around Chicken Little, like the attorney general’s office is, filing lawsuits of false impending doom.”

King filed the state lawsuit last month after a federal appeals court vacated an earlier order that had stopped the horse slaughter operations in the U.S. by barring federal inspections. Valley Meat had planned to open Jan. 1 until King filed the lawsuit asking for an emergency stop order.

King has rallied with national and state animal rights advocates against horse slaughter. He is one of several parties that has included the Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection groups to file federal suits against the federal government, Valley Meat and other plants. He has also fought Valley Meat against the state Environment Department, asking the agency not to issue the plant a waste water discharge permit.

King’s most recent lawsuit claims Valley Meat’s operations would violate the state’s food safety, water quality and unfair business practices acts.

Assistant Attorney General Ari Biernoff told the judge the company would be putting horse meat into the food chain without knowing what kind of drugs the animals might have been given in the past. He also argued that the plant would be violating environmental laws because it does not have the proper wastewater discharge permit, according to The Associated Press. The attorney general’s office had not issued a statement to the Record about Friday’s hearing before press time.

“The attorney general is trying to say that all horses and all meat from all horses is an adulterated product, and that he can prohibit somebody from manufacturing horse meat. This court doesn’t have jurisdiction and certainly the attorney general doesn’t have jurisdiction to make that determination,” Dunn said.

Valley Meat will seek to dismiss the entire complaint, Dunn said.

Under state statute, water quality issues are dealt with by the state Water Quality Control Commission, and food safety issues only become a state matter once the food hits the table or is sold at a store, Dunn said. Valley Meat will package the product for sale outside of the U.S. and any meat processed will be inspected to meet federal standards.

Valley Meat expects to present witnesses at the Jan. 13 hearing to provide testimony about its waste water discharge permit. The Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department is expected to hand down a final ruling in mid-February on whether the company will be issued its permanent permit.

“Based upon (the secretary’s) staff’s recommendations, we think Valley’s going to get their permit,” Dunn said.

If Valley Meat clears this latest legal hurdle, the plant is prepared to open quickly. It might take a week to get the building prepared and a new system in place.

“They have the plans, they have the specifications. They’re going to be working to get everything ready and in place, without spending the money to do it, but it will all be sitting there with all the plans and all the approvals it needs,” Dunn said. “It shouldn’t take long.”

Valley Meat is prepared to keep fighting if the judge does issue another preliminary injunction, stopping the plant once again. King’s lawsuit is an inappropriate and frivolous waste of taxpayers dollars, Dunn said.

“I think it’s a gross misuse of the taxpayers resources to do this. We truly believe that when the facts are put in front of a judge and he makes a final determination … this one will go away as well, and ultimately Valley is going to get to do their business,” Dunn said.

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