ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—A temporary restraining order (TRO) that effectively prevents two U.S. facilities from slaughtering horses has been extended to a third business, Rains Natural Meats of Gallatin, Mo.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been enjoined from dispatching its inspectors to Rains' facility, and the agency must suspend its horse meat inspection services until Oct. 4, Chief U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo ruled Sept. 20. A magistrate judge will hold an evidentiary hearing on whether to extend the TRO, and his report and recommendation will be submitted to Armijo.
At the request of animal rights organizations including the Humane Society of the United States, Armijo previously granted a TRO against two other horse slaughter facilities, Valley Meat Co. LLC of Roswell, N.M. and Responsible Transportation of Sigourney, Iowa.
A lawsuit leading to the TRO has accused USDA officials of violating federal law—including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA)—by neglecting to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) or environmental assessment before granting inspection to horse slaughter plants and implementing a residue testing program for the animals.
In a 7-page order Aug. 2, Armijo found that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their APA and NEPA claims challenging grants of inspection and a USDA directive that relates to drug residue testing for horses. Relying on evidence that was submitted in connection with the operation of horse slaughter facilities before funding for inspections was withdrawn in fiscal year 2006, the judge also found that environmental harm is likely to occur without the TRO.
"This environmental harm included blood spills, improper disposal of animal parts and carcasses, noxious odors, and the leeching of horse effluent into the local water supply and waterways," Armijo wrote. "These harms are compounded by the presence of chemical residues in equines that are not otherwise present in other amenable species subject to slaughter."
Responding to a question on whether the TRO represented "judicial activism", a lawyer representing Humane Society of the United States and Front Range Equine Rescue answered in the negative.
"Judge Armijo was very strict, reserved, very careful and conservative in her questions," Bruce Wagman told reporters outside the federal courthouse last month in comments that were aired on YouTube. "This is nothing like judicial activism. This is strict application of federal law."
A. Blair Dunn, a lawyer representing Valley Meat, expressed confidence that the horse slaughter facility would eventually open. (However, Dunn later told the The Las Cruces Sun-News that Valley Meat had given up on its plans).
"I think that no matter what, a solution needs to be in place to deal with the unwanted feral horses and the horse problem that we have," Dunn said outside the courthouse. Horse slaughter is a "humane alternative" given the number of unwanted horses, he said.
"Allowing them to starve to death, that's the most inhumane thing that you can possibly do," Dunn said.
But Laura Bonar of Animal Protection of New Mexico refuted the claim that horse slaughter can be humane.
"Horse slaughter is cruel and inhumane no manner where it's done," she said outside the courthouse.