In addition to the New Mexico company, USDA is slated to approve two more horse-slaughter plants in Missouri and Iowa.
A New Mexico company is slated to be the first to slaughter horses for human consumption in the U.S. since 2007 after federal authorities agreed to issue a permit required for its operation.
USDA, which is close to approving two additional horse-slaughter plants, said yesterday it was required by law to issue the permit to Valley Meat Co. in Roswell once the company had met the requirements. The last U.S. horse-meat plant closed six years ago after Congress banned funding for inspections for such facilities. That ban lapsed in 2011 and measures to renew it are before lawmakers.
"The administration has requested Congress to reinstate the ban on horse slaughter," USDA press secretary Courtney Rowe said yesterday in an e-mail. "Until Congress acts, the department must continue to comply with current law."
Valley Meat, which previously processed cattle at its facility about 8 miles from downtown Roswell, is one of several applicants asking the USDA to provide inspectors. The USDA said it expects to issue permits for facilities in Gallatin, Missouri, and Sigourney, Iowa, as soon as July 1.
The USDA told Valley Meat it will be at least three weeks before it can provide inspectors, A. Blair Dunn, an attorney representing the company, said in an interview. Valley Meat sued the agency last year for delays in granting inspections.
"They really don’t want this plant to open and they are actually lobbying for the funding to stop from Congress in the future," Dunn said in an interview. "They may not follow through."
Horse slaughter has been an emotional issue among animal- welfare advocates in the U.S., where eating of horse meat is rare and surveys show most Americans oppose the practice.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it is "dismayed" by the USDA decision. "Horse slaughter is inherently cruel," the organization said in a statement.
"Moving ahead with a government program to fund horse slaughter inspections is a cruel, reckless and fiscally irresponsible move," said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA government relations, in an e-mail.
Still, many farmers and ranchers say humane slaughter is necessary to dispose of unwanted animals.
"We realize that a lot of people view horses as companions more than working animals, but a person who has a working horse has a different perspective," said Mike White, president of the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau, in an interview. Without a slaughter facility, horse owners are abandoning animals or shipping them to Mexico to be killed.
An appropriations bill to fund the USDA, which the House may consider as early as the week of July 8, would block spending for inspections at horse-slaughter facilities, effectively banning the practice through Sept. 30, 2014.
Similar language was included in a Senate measure the Agriculture Committee approved June 20 and sent to the full Senate for consideration.
"Congress should promptly reinstate the provision that prohibited spending federal dollars to inspect horse slaughter," Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, said in an e-mail. Dunn said Valley Meat anticipates shipping to distributors in Europe. He said there have been inquiries from curious individuals in the U.S., and there may be some restaurants interested in the meat too.
"Nothing serious has materialized as far as anyone in the U.S.," Dunn said. "If there is a demand in this country, then yes," the company would sell the meat.