From developing and testing atomic bombs to searching for small alien bodies and their crashed space ship on the plains near Roswell, New Mexico is well known for headline-grabbing news stories. But perhaps no story has been more emotional and divisive than a pending issue of whether a facility, also near Roswell, will soon reopen to slaughter horses instead of cows and the meat will be sold to foreign buyers for human consumption.

The horse slaughterhouse issue and the Roswell meat processing facility's plans to begin horse slaughter operations in the weeks ahead has ignited passions from the top to the bottom of New Mexico's diverse cultural population and has divided ranchers, farmers, politicians, animal rights activists and average citizens of just about every demographic all across the state.

Valley Meat Company, a family-owned business, sought and was granted federal approval over recent months to remodel its cattle slaughterhouse to accommodate horses, but the task has been an uphill battle all the way as opponents to horse slaughter fought tooth and nail to block the move and filed lawsuits to prevent the issue from going forward.

Now the State of New Mexico, under the direction of horse advocate and Governor Susan Martinez and the State Attorney General's Office, has joined the growing multitude of opposition by joining a lawsuit designed to stop horse slaughter before it gets started. Opponents cite animal rights and food safety issues.

Valley Meat is scheduled to reopen and begin processing horses in about two weeks, but more than one road block that the company must overcome remains before, or even if, reopening becomes a reality.

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The first is a measure put in place by the New Mexico Environment Department who declined a request last week to renew the plant's wastewater discharge permit. The move immediately drew a quick response from plant attorney Blair Dunn who said the move will necessarily require the plant operator to transport waste to a remote facility, a requirement he says is designed to cut into the plant's ability to make a profit.

While the issuance of a permit will not stop the plant from reopening, Blair says the added cost will make it more financially difficult to operate. But the bigger roadblock to the plant's opening is a pending injunction that would stop operations before they get started.