Horse slaughter ruling proves short-lived

Nov 11, 2013

An injunction issued by the 10th U.S. District Court of Appeals has again halted the plans of three U.S. slaughter operations to begin processing horses in the near future. Announced Nov. 4, the injunction came just days after U.S.

District Court judge Christina Armijo denied a long standing lawsuit brought by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and others, effectively removing one of the final roadblocks preventing the legal slaughter of horses within the United States.

Following Judge Armijo’s Nov. 1 ruling, three U.S. slaughter plants stood poised to begin processing horses for export to countries where they are consumed: Valley Meats in New Mexico; Rains Natural Meats in Missouri; and Iowabased Responsible Transportation.

Though the injunction is a setback, Blair Dunn, an attorney representing two of the plants, feels it will be a temporary one. “We had a great decision on Friday,” says Dunn. “On Sunday (HSUS) filed for an emergency injunction. That’s of some concern, but all those judges really saw was HSUS’ “sky is falling” emergency motion. They didn’t see what we have to say about it, or what the lower court had to say.” Dunn indicates that, with a hearing scheduled for Nov. 8, the injunction may not last the week. He has also advised his clients to continue preparations to start their operations. Nevertheless, HSUS is claiming the decision as a victory for their cause.

“Horse slaughter is a predatory, inhumane business, and we are pleased to win another round in the courts to block killing of these animals on American soil for export to Italy and Japan,” HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle told the Associated Press. “Meanwhile, we are redoubling our efforts in Congress to secure a permanent ban on the slaughter of our horses throughout North America.”

The lawsuit filed by HSUS was centered on the accusation that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) had failed to conduct a complete environmental impact statement, required under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) prior to granting the three plants license to operate. USDA, however, argued that NEPA does not call for a full review in such cases, a viewpoint ultimately shared by Judge Armijo.

According to Dunn, the ruling was something of a surprise to all parties. “It’s certainly not the way I thought it would go,” he says. “We’re very happy with the results.” The lawsuit and subsequent appeal, he claims, amount to little more than a delaying tactic by HSUS, as well as an attempt to drive the plants out of business with costly litigation.

The subject of horse slaughter has long been an emotional one in the U.S., primarily due to the species’ classification by many as a companion animal, while others view the horse as a livestock species. While horse meat is not typically consumed in the U.S., many European and Asian countries consider it a delicacy. The debate over whether or not to allow horse slaughter in the U.S. has led to deep divisions both between and within animal rights groups, agricultural organizations, and numerous equine organizations and disciplines.

Congress weighed in on the controversy in 2005 by removing USDA funding for federal inspectors to conduct the required meat safety inspections at horse slaughter plants to allow sales of the meat. This was closely followed by an outright ban of the practice in Texas and Illinois, the locations of the last two plants in operation at the time. Bans in several other states followed. While horse slaughter remained legal at the federal level, the lack of inspectors served as a de facto ban, preventing new plants from opening. Congress restored funding for inspection in November of 2011, effectively ending the ban. In January of 2012, Valley Meats became the first new applicant to recommence the slaughter of horses for meat. The road to approval, however, proved to be a rocky one. According to Dunn, following their final pre-inspection and approval of the plant in May of 2012, USDA simply quit working with Valley Meats.

“USDA was stonewalling, telling us that our state government didn’t want this,” says Dunn. “They wouldn’t provide an inspector, or even respond to our queries. Eventually, they quit talking to us entirely.”

As a result, Valley Meats filed suit against the USDA, demanding that they obey the law, and provide an inspector. USDA complied in June of this year, at which point HSUS filed their suit to prevent the plant from opening.

Though Valley Meats is just one of three plants seeking to slaughter horses, they have taken the brunt of media attention related to the debate, with mixed results.

“Most of the media has actually been very respectful,” indicates Dunn. “They recognize that these folks are trying to run a lawful business, and they seem focused on finding a solution, rather than making an attack.”

Private citizens, he says, are another matter. According to Dunn, the owners of Valley Meats have been the subject of constant harassment over the last few years, including multiple death threats. Under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), a law enacted in 2006, threats such as these are classified as a felony. Dunn indicated that the FBI is pursuing the matter, with the intent of prosecuting the perpetrators.

“That’s kind of a novel thing,” says Dunn. “There aren’t a lot of cases where this has been pursued.”

Ironically, he points out, HSUS, along with the American Bar Association, made a concerted effort earlier this year to repeal AETA. As an attorney, the move struck Dunn at a personal level.

“I’m no longer a member of the American Bar Association,” he says. “Not after they tried to remove this protection so that they could turn the radicals loose on animal agriculture.” — Jason Campbell, WLJ Correspondent