Congress Blocks Slaughter of Horses in United States (Again)

The resumption of commercial horse slaughter in the United States was blocked on Friday, January 17, when President Obama signed a congressional budget bill that removed funding for USDA inspection of horse slaughter plants. This action on the part of Congress and the President effectively takes horse slaughter in this country off the table for now.

A similar federal budget measure passed in 2006 shuttered the industry in 2007. Money for federal inspections of horse meat was restored in 2011, and several proposed plants have received USDA permits. However, court orders in suits brought by animal rights activists and others have stopped any horse slaughter plants from opening.

The latest of these lawsuits is a suit in New Mexico state court brought by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King. King sued Valley Meat Co., a permit holder who wished to convert its former beef slaughterhouse into an equine processing plant, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled that Valley Meat could commence slaughter operations. That suit is still pending. 

Blair Dunn, attorney for Valley Meat and another plant in Missouri, told news sources, “I don’t see them opening now. No matter what, they are not going to violate the law.” However, Dunn says Valley Meat will continue to wage a legal fight to convert its cattle processing plant to the slaughtering of horses.  According to Dunn, the federal move to withhold money for meat inspections could cause U.S. trade violations.  Valley Meat is also trying to disqualify Judge Matthew Wilson, the New Mexico district judge presiding over the state court suit, because of comments posted by horse slaughter opponents on a Facebook page for the judge’s election campaign.

Related Posts:

10th Circuit Allows Horse Slaughter Plants to Commence Operations

Humane Society, et al File Appeal after Federal Judge Dismisses Horse Slaughter Suit

Federal Court Blocks Horse Slaughter at Two Plants

10th Circuit Allows Horse Slaughter Plants to Commence Operations

In an order dated December 13, 2013, a copy of which can be downloaded here, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit denied an emergency motion for injunction pending appeal filed by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other animal rights groups. The motion sought to halt horse slaughter operations at three U.S. plants pending the final resolution of the animal rights groups’ appeal.

The HSUS and other animal rights groups had originally filed suit in New Mexico federal court seeking to permanently enjoin officials from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) from carrying out federal meat inspections at three horse slaughter facilities. The district court entered a temporary restraining order that halted slaughter operations while the merits of the case could be decided. Ultimately, the district court rejected the arguments of the animal rights groups, denied their request for permanent injunctive relief, and dismissed their case with prejudice.

The animal rights groups appealed the case to the 10th Circuit court of appeals, and sought an emergency injunction staying horse slaughter operations until the appeal could be heard. The 10th Circuit denied the animal rights groups’ motion, holding that the animal rights groups failed to establish a likelihood of success on appeal or irreparable harm to the plaintiffs. 

Horse slaughter operations may now commence under the trial court’s decision, even though the merits of that decision are currently being considered by the 10th Circuit. Operations may continue indefinitely unless and until the 10th Circuit, after considering full merits briefing and oral argument, ultimately ends up siding with the animal rights groups.

Related Posts:

Humane Society, et al File Appeal after Federal Judge Dismisses Horse Slaughter Suit

Federal Court Blocks Horse Slaughter at Two Plants

Case Information: Front Range Equine Rescue, et al v. Tom Vilsack, et al, Cause No. 1:13-cv-00639-MCA-RHS (D.N.M. Nov. 1, 2013); Front Range Equine Rescue, et al v. Tom Vilsack, et al, Cause No. 13-2187 (10th Cir.)

Humane Society, et al File Appeal after Federal Judge Dismisses Horse Slaughter Suit

As discussed in this prior post, the Humane Society of the United States and a variety of other groups and individuals brought suit to permanently enjoin the slaughter of horses at two plants that had been granted Food Safety Inspection Service permits. 

On November 1, 2013, after originally granting a temporary injunction staying operations at the plants, U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo denied the plaintiffs’ request for permanent injunction and dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice. A copy of the court’s Memorandum Opinion and Order can be downloaded here. Accordingly, the temporary injunction previously issued by the court expired, allowing horse slaughter operations to commence at the plants who had been issued permits.

On November 1, 2013, the Humane Society of the United States, et al, appealed the case to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, and moved for a temporary stay of Judge Armijo’s Memorandum Opinion and Order. On November 4, 2013, the Tenth Circuit temporarily stayed the district court's Memorandum Opinion and Order, to allow the court "adequate time to consider the matter.” The Tenth Circuit’s order can be downloaded here

Until the Tenth Circuit acts, the horse slaughter plants currently holding permits cannot commence operations. 

Valley Meat Company’s attorney, Blair Dunn, told The Horse that death threats had been made against Valley Meat Company’s owners.

Case InformationFront Range Equine Rescue, et al v. Tom Vilsack, et al, Cause No. 1:13-cv-00639-MCA-RHS (D.N.M. Nov. 1, 2013); Front Range Equine Rescue, et al v. Tom Vilsack, et al, Cause No. 13-2187 (10th Cir.)

Federal Court Blocks Horse Slaughter at Two Plants

On August 2, 2013, judge Christina Armijo of the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico in Albuquerque granted a 30-day temporary restraining order preventing the commencement of horse slaughter at two plants—Valley Meat Co. LLC in Roswell, New Mexico and Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, Iowa.

Earlier this summer, both of those plants had received Food Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) permits, which allow placement of USDA personnel at processing plants to carry out horsemeat inspections. Horse processing was slated to begin at both plants on August 5, 2013.

This would have been the first time horse slaughter had taken place in the U.S. since 2007, when a combination of court rulings and legislation caused the closure of the last two domestic processing plants operating in Illinois and Texas.

The lawsuit against the slaughter plants was brought by the Humane Society of the United States and other groups who oppose horse slaughter.

According to some sources, the court’s ruling was based on an allegedly flawed environmental review of one or both of the plants. Further, the court has reportedly prohibited USDA inspectors from further involvement with the plants. 

Arsonists set fire to Valley Meat Company’s plant on or around July 30, 2013, just before the plant was scheduled to commence operations. “They tried to burn the place down,” Valley Meat Co. owner Rick De Los Santos said in reference to opponents who have been making threats against the company over the past year.

A bond hearing is scheduled for today, whereby the court will determine the amount of money the plaintiffs must put up as a bond to cover the plants’ economic losses, in the event that plaintiffs lose the suit.