ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said Friday she is asking federal officials not to allow a southeastern New Mexico company to open the nation's first slaughterhouse for horses since 2007.
Martinez plans to send a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture asking it deny a Roswell meat company's request for inspections that would allow it to operate.
"Despite the federal government's decision to legalize horse slaughter for human consumption, I believe creating a horse slaughtering industry in New Mexico is wrong and I am strongly opposed," Martinez said in a statement.
Valley Meat Co. has filed an application with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its 7,300-square-foot plant outside of town. Documents obtained by the Humane Society of the United States and Front Range Equine Rescue show that horses would be "custom slaughtered" and processed for human consumption at the plant, the Albuquerque Journal reported (http://bit.ly/IlnrcB ).
Valley Meat didn't immediately returns calls from the Associated Press on Friday.
USDA spokesman Aaron Lavallee said in a statement that there are no facilities approved for horse slaughter in the United States.
"One establishment, located in New Mexico, recently applied for a grant of inspection exclusively for equine and USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service is reviewing the application," Lavallee said.
Horse slaughter has effectively been blocked since Congress withheld funds for USDA inspections of horse meat plants in 2006. But a recently passed agriculture bill provides the money.
The last horse slaughterhouse closed in Illinois in 2007. Since Congress renewed inspection funding, several plants are under consideration, including one in Missouri that would process up to 200 animals a day.
More than 100,000 American horses are shipped out of the country to plants in Canada and Mexico for slaughter each year, and their meat is bound for markets in Europe and Asia, according to the Humane Society. Although there are reports of Americans dining on horse meat a recently as the 1940s, the practice is virtually non-existent in this country.
A spokesman for New Mexico Attorney General Gary King said his office so far has found no legal basis for stopping the plant, but a lawyer has been assigned to continue looking into the matter.
"A horse slaughtering plant in Roswell is a terrible idea. Such a practice, while not illegal, is certainly abhorrent to public sentiment, and I strongly suggest it be abandoned," King, a Democrat, said in a written statement.
"Horses are different and should be treated differently," he said.
The Humane Society, Front Range Equine Rescue and other groups are pushing the federal government to ban the export of American horses for the foreign meat market and to formally prohibit the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the United States.
"Horse slaughter for food is a national disgrace, given the iconic nature of American horses and the especially brutal methods used to kill them," Front Range Equine Rescue said in a statement.
Pro-slaughter activists say the horse slaughter ban had unintended consequences, including an increase in neglect and the abandonment of the animals.
Details about the extent of the proposed horse slaughtering operation were unavailable, but the application obtained by the groups says the plant would only handle horses, not cattle or chickens. The plant would operate eight hours a day year-round, according to the application.
Front Range's lawyer, Bruce Wagman, said Valley Meat first filed an application for USDA inspections in December, and then a second application in March.
The groups said it has obtained email correspondence showing that company representatives have been talking for months to officials from the Denver office of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which inspects animals and meats in American slaughterhouses.
According to Front Range, one January email from an FSIS official said, "Public wants assurances there is no way for horse meat to get into their beef products."
The USDA said FSIS regulations prohibit horse slaughter or other preparation of horse products in the same establishment in which cattle, sheep, swine or goats are slaughtered or their products are prepared.
Critics also contend former companion, working, racing and wild horses should not be used as human food because drugs routinely given to such horses are potentially dangerous to people.
Elisabeth Jennings, executive director of Animal Protection of New Mexico, said residents of a state with roots in cowboy culture "have a deep and enduring appreciation for horses, especially given their important role in our state's rural way of life."
"It is an affront to our citizens to suggest bringing the cruel, dangerous and polluting enterprise of horse slaughter to New Mexico as we celebrate our state's centennial," she said.