Plant owner Rick de la Santos claims that his small cattle processing plant was forced to reorganize after severe drought conditions over the last two years caused most ranchers in New Mexico to cull herds, which created a shortage of cattle to process through his facility and at the same time created a serious problem for horse owners who found it difficult to find or afford forage and feed for their animals, often resulting in horses being abandoned and in many cases left to die.

But the issue of whether the slaughtering of horses was inhumane or not divided horse rescue and animal welfare groups as well as ranchers, politicians and even American Indian tribes who were faced with having to deal with horse overpopulation and the growing problem of horse abandonment in drought stressed regions of the nation.

Texas and Illinois are the only two states that outlawed the slaughter of horses for human consumption, but when Congress eliminated funding for USDA horse meat and plant inspections back in 2006, it effectively closed down equine slaughterhouse operations in every state because the meat could not be shipped out of state. The last horse slaughterhouse in the country closed in 2007. But in November last year President Obama signed a bill that authorized the return of USDA inspections of horse meat and plants, clearing the way for horse slaughterhouse operations in states other than Texas and Illinois.

Dunn quickly filed applications with USDA for a plant inspection that would clear the way for Valley Meat Company to resume operations and a request asking for federal inspectors to begin regular inspections of operations at the planned horse slaughterhouse. But after weeks of waiting for USDA approval, the company finally filed a lawsuit against USDA charging they were intentionally slowing the permit process because of political opposition at both the state and federal level.

In May, however, it looked like USDA had finally cleared the way for horse meat inspections to continue, which quickly prompted at least two other companies, one in Oklahoma and the other in Wyoming, to express interest in horse slaughter operations.

Oklahoma lawmakers effectively approved horse slaughter operations with recent legislation that authorizes horse meat inspections within the state. Many say the bill was drafted not so much in support of horse slaughtering but in support of livestock producers who fear if animal rights groups get their way on this issue, they might be able to champion further animal rights legislation that could interfere with the state’s livestock or poultry industries.

Meanwhile, at least two Wyoming groups are reportedly considering opening horse slaughterhouse operations. Wyoming State Rep. Sue Wallis is a member of the United Horsemen and says her group formed the company Unified Equine to explore the creation of at least one horse meat processing plant in her state.

Wallis and United Horsemen, as well as other pro-slaughter groups, recently pushed Congress to allow USDA inspections of horse slaughterhouses.