Whether a New Mexico slaughterhouse will be allowed to open and begin processing horses for slaughter should be decided no later than late October according to a federal judge in Albuquerque.

Judge Christina Armijo told reporters this week she will make that decision by the end of next month after she placed the case on an expedited schedule on Tuesday.

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Attorneys for both the Humane Society of the United States and other plaintiffs, and an attorney representing Valley Meat Company of Roswell, have been instructed to file briefs in the days and weeks ahead in order to facilitate a timely decision "in the coming weeks."

Armijo placed a restraining order on Valley Meat Company of New Mexico and Responsible Transportation of Sigourney, Iowa, last month preventing the two processing plants from commencing horse slaughter operations even though USDA had issued them permits in June.

HSUS a plaintiff

A lawsuit filed in early July by a number of groups and individuals opposing horse slaughter in the U.S. claimed those permits were issued without meeting federal environmental requirements.

Plaintiffs in the case also include the animal welfare group Front Range Equine Rescue of New Mexico; another animal protection foundation formed by actor Robert Redford and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson; and a Native American tribe among others. The lawsuit actually represents legal action filed against USDA's decision to issue the permits and challenges whether those permits are valid because issuing them failed to meet federal environmental assessment requirements.

Armijo granted the restraining order, but ordered plaintiffs and defendants to appear before a federal magistrate charged with determining the amount of a cash bond the animal welfare groups would need to post to cover the costs of delayed start up operations for the companies if the court should finally rule USDA did not issue the permits improperly and the plants should have been allowed to open.

A week later, Federal Magistrate Robert Scott ordered the Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue and the other plaintiffs to post a bond of no less than $460,000 to cover the potential losses of the two companies for the first month of delayed opening, and further set additional hearings-- one per month--to determine the amount of incremental cash bonds that would be required each month until the court finds a resolution in the case.

The welfare groups posted the bond but their attorneys filed additional motions, including the motion to expedite the case in hopes of bringing the lawsuit to a settlement as quickly as possible.