The plant has become a major political issue in recent months. Animal rights groups call plans to open a horse slaughterhouse inhumane, but other animal activist groups and a number of Roswell area ranchers say a horse slaughterhouse is a better alternative than shipping horses to facilities in Mexico and Canada.

 De Los Santos says thousands of horses travel from or through New Mexico every month in route to slaughter facilities across the Mexican border, and he claims horses that are processed through his plant will receive more humane treatment than horses sent to foreign processing plants which have fewer regulations protecting animal rights.

He says that in addition to animal rights issues, reopening of the Roswell plant will help the local economy by providing jobs that were taken away when the plant closed last year. He voluntarily shuttered the plant as a direct result of a drought-stressed cattle industry, but only after asking USDA about establishing a horse slaughter facility in its place.  He said he was “encouraged by USDA at the time,” but that changed after public pressure over the issue began to build.

In a lawsuit filed last Oct., the plant owner charged USDA with requiring him to shut down cattle slaughter operations before they would consider approving inspections for the horse slaughter plant. The lawsuit also charged animal protection groups with attempting to destroy his business. They include Animal Protection of New Mexico, Front Range Equine, and the Humane Society of the United States.

But not all animal groups object to horse slaughter. Some groups say they support slaughter operations as a way to humanely destroy abandoned or starving animals, including some horse rescue groups, a livestock association and the American Quarter Horse Association. They point to the escalating number of horses being transported out of the country to foreign slaughterhouses.

According to USDA statistics, 68,429 horses were transported to Mexico and 64,652 were transported to Canada last year compared to 37,884 total horses shipped out of the country in 2006, the same year Congress effectively stopped domestic horse slaughter operations by refusing to fund USDA inspections. Contrary to that move, however, a 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office indicates horse abuse and abandonment have been increasing since inspections ceased, prompting those that favor horse slaughter to point out that cases of horse cruelty have increased.

In a surprise move, Congress passed a bill last year that authorized horse slaughterhouse inspections, bringing the issue back to the forefront.

In recent weeks a new development has stirred the fires of controversy. A meat company employee, described by some as a buyer for the Roswell plant, shot a horse in front of a group of protestors allegedly to prove that horse meat was safe for human consumption. The employee was fired over the incident, but no charges were officially filed because the employee owned the horse and said he intended to consume the meat.

De Los Santos said while he neither authorized nor approved of the move, said the employee was reacting to harassment by animal rights activists. Those activists were enraged when the video was posted on the Internet.  Law enforcement officials in Chaves County say they fear things could get worse as the plant prepares to begin slaughter operations in the near future.

Meat company attorney A. Blair Dunn says he believes all roadblocks to reopening the plant for horse slaughter operations have been removed with USDA’s inspection this week, causing some to believe horse slaughter operations at the facility may soon begin.But a number of New Mexico officials, including Gov. Susana Martinez and New Mexico Attorney General Gary King say they oppose reopening the plant as a horse slaughter facility and say they plan to make USDA aware of their objections.




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