NM attorney general calls horsemeat illegal

Jun 14, 2013

In yet another round of the horse slaughter fight going on in New Mexico, a new blow has been thrown; horsemeat has been called illegal by the state’s main legal advisor.

Monday, June 10, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King issued a legal analysis regarding the issue of horse slaughter. King said meat from U.S. horses treated with certain chemicals fits the legal definition of an adulterated food product under the New Mexico Food Act. This would make the production, sale, and/or delivery of horse meat from animals so treated illegal in New Mexico.

“Our legal analysis concludes that state law does not allow for production of meat that is chemically tainted under federal regulations,” said King. “New Mexico law is very clear that it would be prohibited and illegal.”

The analysis came in response to a request from New Mexico State Sen. Richard Martinez, who asked for the attorney general’s legal opinion on the New Mexico Food Act and horse meat for human consumption. Martinez reportedly is “very concerned” about the prospect of New Mexico becoming the first state to allow horse slaughter for human consumption since 2007.

The practice of processing horses for human consumption was effectively outlawed in 2007 when Congress defunded inspections for horse processing.

The federal law which halted funding to horse inspection lapsed in 2011.

At the heart of the legal opinion is the matter of what constitutes an “adulterated food product” under the state law, and the drugs often given to horses which are not cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as acceptable for use in food animals.

“A food shall be deemed adulterated... if it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health,” reads the relevant portion of the New Mexico Food Act, as cited by King.

The adulterant in question is phenylbuteazone (PBZ)—often called “bute”—which is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. In the 1950s, PBZ was used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and gout in humans and found to have severely negative side effects, such as aplastic anemia and death, as rapidly as three years after treatment. PBZ is widely used in racehorses and FDA “does not allow any use of PBZ in horses destined for human consumption and neither does the UK or the EU regardless of withdrawal time.”

In addition to PBZ, King’s response letter to Martinez—which contained the ultimate legal opinion—mentioned that many regular and sometimes required vaccinations and dewormers used in horses are not cleared for use in food animals.

King also concluded his opinion, pointing out “… scientific studies and the FDA have concluded that PBZ and other chemicals used to treat U.S. horses are ‘deleterious’ and ‘injurious to health’ within the [New Mexico Food] Act’s definition. Accordingly, horse meat originating from U.S. horses that have been treated with PBZ and other deleterious substances would be deemed ‘adulterated.’” King also reiterated that, according to the New Mexico Food Act, manufacture, sale or delivery of adulterated food products is illegal regardless of where that product is to be consumed.

The announcement comes following years in which embattled Valley Meat Co. of Roswell has tried to be come the U.S.’ first horse processing plant in six years. The company has been petitioning USDA to reinstate federal inspection of horse slaughter so that it can convert one of its cattle facilities into a horse facility.

Valley Meat Co.’s effort has been dogged by hangup after hang-up. Roadblocks include several notices of intent to sue over alleged—and curiously old—violations of the Clean Water Act, a scandal involving a video of a Valley Meat Co. employee shooting a horse at his home and mocking animal rights activists, and what the company has described as the Obama administration playing politics.

The legal opinion from King—who has been a noted opponent of the proposed plant for years—did not phase Valley Meat Co. Attorney A. Blair Dunn, representing the company, told local paper the Albuquerque Journal that the assessment would not impact Valley Meat Co.’s efforts as it reportedly has a federally-approved testing regimen to screen out horses treated with PBZ and other banned substances.

“Valley Meat Co. has an accepted drug testing process,” Dunn said. “There’s no substance being used in horses that we don’t have a test for.”

Dunn went on to call the move by King “playing politics” and condemned the opinion as “reckless and dangerous” for the precedence it could set for the entirety of New Mexico’s livestock industry.

“This has the potential to have impact elsewhere,” he told the Associated Press. “There is not an animal sector that does not… give antibiotics. If you were to apply this standard to the dairy industry, you would shut down the entire dairy industry in this state.” — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor