ROSWELL, N.M. (KRQE) - After garnering a lot of attention, a Roswell business' plan to begin slaughtering horses is on hold although the owners aren't calling it quits just yet.
Ricardo De Los Santos told KRQE News 13 he stands by his claims that the business would bring a lot of jobs and revenue to the state. However, he said he can't move forward until the U.S. Department of Agriculture makes a move.
For now workers are sparse, and the Valley Meat Company plant is shut down. De Los Santos, a partner in Valley Meat, said he's likely going to have to start slaughtering cattle again until the USDA grants an inspection to slaughter horses.
"It's been a long, hard process, and we have no resolve," he said. "We don't have answers. We don't have the backing of USDA, or even our state government, or anything."
De Los Santos applied to the USDA last December to switch his cattle slaughterhouse to a horse slaughterhouse facility.
The plan has been met with opposition from the Humane Society and Gov. Susana Martinez. However, De Los Santos said he's not backing down, not only because it's a business that could create at least 100 new jobs, but because, he said it's needed in the area.
"From December to now, if we would have been allowed to slaughter horses, we could have generated in excess of $10 million," De Los Santos said. He said contracts he has on the table from other countries would generate $10 million to $20 million a year.
Every day, De Los Santos said he gets calls from people wanting to know if he's slaughtering horses yet.
"Even local ranchers here have called. 'Are you up and going?' 'We've got 20.' 'We've got 30. 'We've got 10.' 'Where else can they go with these horses?'" he said.
He said the horses are still going to slaughter in other countries, and his facility would offer a more humane solution.
"With their (USDA) guidance here at the plant, I don't see why it should be an issue, but the Humane Society has pressured them," said De Los Santos.
He added that although he's met with opposition, he has a lot of support from those in the horse industry.
"All the shelters for horses are full, they're just full to the max, so where can these horses go? They're being loaded on trucks and headed into Mexico and Canada, that's all that can be done with them right now," explained De Los Santos.
Slaughtering horses in the U.S. would be more humane, De Los Santos said, than transporting them long distances to be slaughtered elsewhere.
The business owner said he didn't expect the controversy since Congress lifted the ban on slaughtering horses last year.
De Los Santos halted the slaughter of cattle at his facility, since he said the USDA gave him the impression his inspection would be approved. He said he's put in at least $100,000 into improvements and renovations at his plant to meet USDA requirements to become an equine facility.
Last week, De Los Santos sent a letter to the USDA requesting an inspector to begin horse slaughtering, and said he got the cold shoulder.
"Well, they didn't call back, they didn't let us know 'we received your e-mails, yes, we received your letter,' they didn't let us know nothing at all," he said. "So to us that means no."
In his opinion, De Los Santos said the battle has become less about food safety and more about politics, and he doesn't expect an answer until after elections.
Although he said he'll likely open his cattle slaughtering plant back up, he's not giving up on his efforts to become a horse-slaughter facility.
"We're going to leave the application intact and let it run it's course," said De Los Santos.
This year, De Los Santos said he's laid off at least 20 employees with hopes of calling them back in as soon as he gets a response.
If he is granted the OK, De Los Santos said he'll be able to start slaughtering and processing 125 horses a day, five days a week, most of which would go to Mexico, Europe, Russia and China.
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