ROSWELL, N.M. (KRQE) - Valley Meats in Roswell will become the very first horse slaughterhouse in the United States since the process was banned seven years ago.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a grant of inspection for the facility today, but the owners said they're proceeding with caution.
After a long, political fight Valley Meats has been through, this final approval to move forward may not be as clear cut as it seems.
"They may have given us the piece of paper, but actually following through with inspectors is still questionable at this point," said Valley Meats' attorney Blair Dunn.
He said they will work toward opening the horse slaughterhouse in the next month, but in order for Valley Meats to operate, they must have a USDA inspector on site each day the plant is open.
Right now Congress is talking about eliminating funding for inspectors at these facilities which would essentially shut the slaughterhouses down.
"It's the discussion that USDA doesn't really want to proceed with providing inspectors until they hear from Congress as to what Congress will do with the funding for the next year," Dunn said.
Executive Director Lisa Jenning of Animal Protection of New Mexico said if the federal government doesn't stop the slaughterhouse form opening, her group will try.
Other animal-protection groups have already threatened to file suit claiming the USDA didn't study the environmental impact the plant would have on threatened and endangered species in the area.
"Horse slaughter plants in particular create tremendous amounts of blood and waste and clog up municipal sewer systems," Lisa Jennings said. "They create problems in the neighborhoods they're in with both smell and residue."
Jennings said despite an overpopulation of horses, there's nothing humane about killing them for food.
"Horses are flight animals. They're very skittish. It's virtually impossible to have horse slaughter conducted humanely," she said.
The owner of Valley Meats said he doesn't think he should have to explain to the public why he chose to do this, other than that it's a good business opportunity.
"I'm sure there will be outcry. I'm sure there will be protesting, but we are going to continue to move forward with it," Owner Rick De Los Santos said.
In a news release Friday, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., a member of the House Agriculture Committee, criticized the action of USDA.
"I am deeply disappointed and saddened that the USDA is allowing slaughter to take place right here in New Mexico," Grisham said. "The USDA has ignored the significant and compelling food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection concerns associated with this particular plant. "
De Los Santos told KRQE News 13 he expects to hire about 40 people within the next week and plans to eventually employ about 100 people.
The proposed bills in Congress looking to cut funding for inspectors or enact an outright ban on horse slaughter. Both call for an effective date of September 2014.
This means the plant could still operate for more than a year.
Valley Meats' attorney said he's been told the bills have a slim chance of passing this year because of other more important budget concerns.
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