Animal protection groups are reeling after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver lifted an emergency injunction last week that once again could clear the way for U.S. companies to begin domestic horse slaughter in the weeks ahead.

The temporary injunction had been granted Nov. 4 by the same court after Front Range Equine Rescue, the Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection groups filed an appeal when a federal court in Albuquerque threw out a lawsuit in November that was submitted earlier this year. After that lawsuit was filed in July, a temporary injunction was issued that prevented potential horse slaughter facilities in New Mexico, Iowa and Missouri from opening their doors until the full case could be heard. The case was subsequently thrown out.

The court action last Friday is the latest development in an ongoing legal battle between a growing number of companies that want to begin domestic horse slaughter operations and those opposed to it. The practice of slaughtering horses in the U.S. was suspended nearly eight years ago when Congress failed to fund federal meat inspections. But a lack of Congressional or White House action to extend United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) budget restraints earlier this year forced the federal agency to issue permits in June.

Last Friday the Denver Court's action ratifies an Albuquerque federal judge's decision issued in November that the U.S. Department of Agriculture did follow proper procedures in issuing permits to Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, New Mexico; Rains Natural Meats of Gallatin, Missouri; and Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, Iowa earlier this year.

 

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As a result of that first temporary injunction in July, Responsible Transportation of Iowa withdrew its application for a horse slaughtering permit from USDA and opted to open a cattle processing facility instead. But shortly thereafter companies in both Oklahoma and Wyoming expressed additional interest in applying for federal permits.

National debate

The interest and intent of meat processing facilities to obtain permits and resume domestic horse slaughter prompted a national debate over the issue, often dividing ranchers, animal welfare groups, politicians, and even Indian tribes.

While many applauded the virtual ban on horse slaughter operations imposed when Congress failed to fund federal inspections in 2007, many claimed it left the horse industry with few choices to deal with a growing problem of animal abandonment and neglect. As a result of several years of serious drought, especially across the Southwest and in the Midwest, forage crops suffered and were in short supply and hay and feed prices spiraled, adding to the problem by forcing many horse owners to sell their horses at auction.

Proponents of domestic slaughtering of horses say the crisis forced sale prices down for horses and that opened the door to companies that purchased unwanted horses wholesale at auction and shipped them to Mexico or Canada where they can be legally slaughtered. They argue a ban on domestic slaughter increases the risk of animal cruelty because unwanted horses are often packed into trailers and trucks and shipped great distances to international borders. Many of the animals die in route.

In addition, they argue that animals that survive are often subjected to worse slaughter conditions at unregulated foreign processing facilities.

Representatives of Valley Meat Company of Roswell, who were granted a federal permit and prepared to open just a few days after the initial temporary injunction was issued last summer, say company officials plan to resume slaughter operations but say it may be two weeks before they start processing animals.

Officials at the Humane Society of the United States issued a statement late Friday saying the fight to stop domestic horse slaughter is not over.

"We will press for a quick resolution of the merits of our claims," HSUS said last week.

The consumption and sale of horse meat in the United States is prohibited by law, but companies seeking permits to resume domestic horse slaughter say there is a market for horse meat in several countries where it is legal and say it is also lawful to sell horse meat to be used as animal food.

 

Also of interest:

Horse slaughter issue divides and confuses: PART I

Horse slaughter issue by the numbers: PART II

Improving forage, livestock production begins with the soil