New Mexico horse processing plant one step closer to reality |

New Mexico horse processing plant one step closer to reality

The seemingly endless drought in the southwest has brought hard times to many horses that are out of feed and whose owners can no longer take care of them. These ranch horses are in good shape despite short pasture, but many are starving in other areas. Photo by Jan Swan Wood

With the recent USDA inspection of the processing plant in Roswell, NM, horse processing should be on track to resume in the near future. The attorney representing Rick De Los Santos in the lawsuit against USDA, Blair Dunn, said that there were no issues identified and that the plant was 100 percent compliant. The veterinarian that inspected the plant said that the grant of inspection should be issued. “What should happen next is that the grant of inspection would be issued immediately according to the officials,” said Dunn.

“What we heard back from the Department of Justice was that they are preparing for litigation as they believe they will be sued by HSUS and other organizations.” He added, “They are covering all their bases and double checking to make sure every bit of paperwork is clean and that they can stand up in court and say that it (lawsuit by animals rights groups) is frivolous and ungrounded.”

This falls in line with what the Associated Press said following a phone interview with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Vilsack explained that the USDA is working to make sure the process is handled properly and said “We are going to do this and I would imagine that it would be relatively soon.”

That gives real hope to the beleaguered Rick De Los Santos, owner of Valley Meats, the processing plant in question. When funding for USDA inspections for equine processing was resumed in 2011 De Los Santos began the process of clearing the endless hurdles for opening a horse processing facility.

“They are covering all their bases and double checking to make sure every bit of paperwork is clean and that they can stand up in court and say that it (lawsuit by animals rights groups) is frivolous and ungrounded.”

Blair Dunn, attorney representing Rick De Los Santos in the lawsuit against USDA

The USDA said he had to close down the cattle processing plant and make changes to be compliant, which he did. Each time a requested upgrade was completed, a new one was ordered. After spending several hundred thousand dollars on the upgrades, De Los Santos finally enlisted the aid of attorney Blair Dunn to sue the USDA for not granting inspectors despite his compliance in every way. The USDA, by law, had to grant the inspection of the plant and also, by law, must provide inspectors in the plant.

Blair Dunn, explaining the next move for Valley Meats, said, “We’ll probably be going to court at the request of HSUS as they sue to prevent processing.” Dunn continued “Rick’s going to stick it out. He’s invested money, sweat and tears for this and feels like it’s the right thing to do. He’s not going to be bullied for that.”

De Los Santos has had to hire security guards and has turned the phone and written threats over to law enforcement after over a year of having his life, his family’s and employee’s lives threatened in a variety of gruesome ways by anti-processing radicals. Rick and his wife Sarah are standing fast, believing that the processing plant is going to fill a need in the country for humane processing of horses and for jobs in a community that is woefully short of employment opportunities.

Not only are the animal rights factions fighting Valley Meats, but New Mexico’s very liberal state government is as well. Governor Susana Martinez and New Mexico Attorney General Gary King are opposed to equine processing and have sent letters to Vilsack and the USDA in an effort to stop the inspectors being approved. State House representation from the urban area of Albuquerque has also spoke up against the plant.

The need for a federally inspected humane processing plant for horses has grown by leaps and bounds since the last plant was closed in 2006. That year, only 37,884 horses were shipped out of the country. According to USDA statistics, in 2012, 68,429 horses were shipped to Mexico and 64,652 were shipped to Canada. With over 130,000 horses being shipped, many more are being starved, neglected, or turned loose because they are unusable, crippled, or the owners can no longer feed them.

The extended drought over the west, which is still doggedly hanging on in the southwest (NM, AZ, CO, NV and west TX) has pastures grazed to the dirt and hay supplies tight and high priced. Dunn stated, “Small square bales of hay are selling from $15 to $20 each. No one can keep feeding that hay to horses. The cost of basic care is just impossible. Horses are starving and being abandoned all over.” He continued, “For example on the Navajo reservation, people are desperate to reduce numbers. There are an estimated 100,000 horses on the reservation and those horses are leaving the reservation in search of grazing on forest service and private ground.”

The processing plant itself is located five miles from Roswell, NM and is 7,200 square feet and has one kill floor and two processing rooms ready to be put to work. The plant would provide over 40 jobs to begin with the potential of over 100 jobs. “They have the ability to also open up the rendering facility there as well, which would grow the job situation even more. That’s all very good for the community,” said Dunn.

Dunn explained, “There have been 10 or more of the big dairies in the area close down and those workers are in desperate need of jobs. The plant opening will be a great boost for the economy of the community.”

The processing itself will be under very strict standards and the meat processed will be for human consumption in Europe and Asia. Horse meat, or cheval, is a high protein, lean meat that is highly regarded in other countries. None of the horses processed at Valley Meats would be offered to U.S. consumers.

As Valley Meats will be hiring employees in advance of the arrival of inspectors, Attorney Dunn is encouraged that the Dept. of Justice and USDA are moving in the right direction this time and appear to be on the right side of the legal fight with the animal rights factions.

“The big concern is, after Valley Meats is in full swing processing horses, that September might see congress revert back to a failed policy and we don’t need to go back to that,” said Dunn, referring to the President’s 2014 budget that has no money for USDA inspectors for equine processing.

Not out of the woods yet, even with USDA inspectors imminent, many are hoping equine processing will become a reality in the near future and return to the pre-ban opportunity to market unwanted horses in the U.S. as was recommended by the 2011 Government Accountability Office’s assessment of the plight of domestic horses since slaughter ceased in 2006. When the New Mexico plant opens, other plants will follow in other states, helping to relieve the overabundance of horses in the U.S. and bringing back a fair market for horses of every class throughout the country.

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