Horse industry has chance to help re-open processing plant |

Horse industry has chance to help re-open processing plant

Jan Swan Wood
for Tri-State Livestock News
Blair Dunn, Roswell, NM, attorney, asks the horse industry to step up and make their voices heard in a case that affects all of animal agriculture. Photo by Jan Swan Wood

A meeting was held Sunday, Jan. 27, at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, Rapid City, SD, with regional horse breeders to discuss a lawsuit that has been brought against the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service by a meat processing plant in New Mexico. Valley Meat Company, LLC, the plaintiff, contends that the USDA and FSIS have prevented the Roswell, NM, business from being allowed to begin processing horses due to inspectors not being provided, though funding to do so was reinstated in 2011.

Rick de los Santos, Roswell, NM, closed his beef processing plant in 2011 due to the drought-driven decline in cattle numbers in the southwest. When he inquired of the USDA as to what he would need to do to re-open as a beef and horse processing plant, he was assured that inspections would be granted if he upgraded the plant to be compliant with regulations regarding humane slaughter of horses. By December of 2011, de los Santos was ready to open. In January 2012, he was told that he couldn’t process both cattle and horses, so he made the required changes to be strictly a horse processing facility, at a cost of around $100,000. He enlisted the FSIS in Omaha, NE, for help to get all of the pharmaceutical issues cleared and then assumed that he could begin processing horses.

When he again requested inspectors, the Humane Society of the U.S. and other animal rights groups stepped in and it suddenly turned into a political issue. The governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez and the N.M. Attorney General got involved on the side of the animals rights groups, and the USDA started giving Valley Meats the runaround and would not grant the inspectors as was the requirement by law to do so.

In mid-May, Valley Meats hired Attorney Blair Dunn, a ranch-raised Roswell, NM, native, to represent them in court. The aforementioned suit was filed Oct. 19, 2012 and accuses the USDA and FSIS of unreasonably delaying the issuance of a grant of inspection, which is in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. Valley Meats seeks declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, including an order from the court toward the USDA for an immediate grant of inspection. This suit is supported by horse associations such as the American Quarter Horse Association, American Paint Horse Association, United Organizations for the Horse, and several veterinarian associations.

The animal rights organizations HSUS, San Francisco, CA, along with Front Range Equine Rescue, Colorado, filed a Motion to Intervene in the case. Those organizations have been using falsified information to foil any attempts by Valley Meats to meet the requirements set forth by USDA, FSIS and National Environmental Policy Act rules and now, with the Motion to Intervene, will be able to bring their case before the court.

The Federal Rule of Civil Procedure states that a Motion To Intervene must be allowed if a proposed intervenor claims an interest relating to the property of transaction that is subject of the action and is so situated that disposing of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the movant’s ability to protect its interest, unless existing parties adequately represent that interest. The HSUS and FRER claim to have significant interests at stake due to their petitions and the expenditure of significant amounts of organization funds.

There is, however, a positive side of the Motion to Intervene rule. Any organization or individual can file one, including those people affected by the disastrous results of the closing of horse processing plants in 2007, which caused a dramatic downturn in horse values and caused many horse related businesses to close their doors (as was proven by the GAO study completed in 2011). Also, it’s not limited to just the horse industry. Other livestock related organizations and individuals can also file, as it truly affects all of animal agriculture. Agriculturally dominated states, including the state’s Attorney General and the Secretary of Agriculture, should get involved as well.

When a group, such as a breeder’s group or organization files, they can present expert testimony. The filing isn’t difficult and shouldn’t be costly, especially if a group works together to file. It requires an attorney to draw it up and write the brief, which should be around 10 pages long. They need to have a clear stance on the situation and proceed. An intervenor is not required to continue to file if they choose not to after the initial filing, so it’s not an ongoing expense. Separate interventions by different groups (like state breed associations) and businesses such as a group of folks who put on an annual horse sale, as well as those by individuals are important. Numbers of respondents is critical as each one adds weight in court

Time is of the essence, though, as the Motion to Intervene must be filed by mid-February at the latest. Blair Dunn is willing to help anyone get in contact with an ag-expert attorney in their area.

Some people might not believe that this has anything to do with them as they are not in the horse business. However, it affects all of animal agriculture, rodeo, racing, etc … as the agenda of the animal rights organizations specifically targets those industries. If they can wipe out the horse industry, the next target could be sheep, beef, pork, poultry, etc …

The animal rights organizations have spent significant amounts of money to thwart the business practices of Valley Meats. An investigation into some of their alleged violations by Valley Meats should expose the fraudulent claims of both HSUS and FRER, for example one of the former USDA inspectors of beef at the plant was found to have an affiliation with HSUS.

The HSUS is not without ulterior motives in keeping horse numbers unnaturally high, as they currently are without the option of slaughter. For example, the group is trying to get $1,000,000 from the state of New Mexico to put the feral horses there on contraceptives which HSUS has the exclusive distributorship of.

That conflict of interest could certainly be exposed in court, along with other violations, as Rick de los Santos/Valley Meats, LLC, has filed a defamation lawsuit against HSUS, FRER and Animal Protection of New Mexico. Industry backing of that suit could give it more weight in court as well.

This is an opportunity to beat the animal rights groups at their own game and people need to get involved and make their voices heard in court. There is a great deal of concern that the judiciary may side with HSUS as they have the attorneys and the funds to back a big campaign.

This is an opportunity for the horse industry to be a voice that is heard and the chance to put a stop to the endless interference by special interest groups in legitimate agricultural operations. The livestock industry needs to pull together to fight this and make their voices heard. For more information contact Blair Dunn at or 505-881-7801.