Valley Meat Company of Roswell, New Mexico, may be one step closer to slaughtering horses and shipping the meat overseas, according to Blair Dunn, the company’s legal counsel.

Dunn reports USDA inspectors failed to find issues at the processing plant during a long awaited inspection this week, clearing the way for owners of the plant to step up plans to resume slaughter operations at the small processing facility located just outside of Roswell.

Tuesday’s federal inspection represents the latest chapter in the story of Rick De Los Santos who, along with his wife Sarah, owns and has operated Valley Meat Company for over 20 years. Up until it was shuttered over a year ago, the plant for years processed cattle, mostly cows too old to transport long distances to larger processing facilities. But De Los Santos says when the drought caused cattle herds to shrink, it adversely affected his meat processing business and also created a hardship for horse owners who struggled to find and fund feed for their animals, often resulting in horse abandonment. He said he decided it was time to remodel the plant to facilitate the slaughtering of horses for meat that could be sold to foreign buyers.

Human consumption of horse meat is illegal in the United States, but has long been widely accepted in many other countries across Europe and Asia. But when the plant remodeled to facilitate horse slaughter, the owners say that’s “when the fireworks began.”

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Over the last year the owners have been embroiled in litigation over plans to slaughter horses. Protestors have picketed the plant, appealed to state and federal representatives and filed court actions to block the reopening of the plant as a horse slaughterhouse facility. Owners say the controversy surrounding the plant has also resulted in a steady barrage of hate mail and death threats.

“Sometimes it’s scary,” De Los Santos said. “They say ‘We will slit your throat [and] hope you die.’”

The owners say they are constantly receiving phone calls and that death threats have been left on their answering machine almost daily.