By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
ALBUQUERQUE – The long-running arguments over opening the first horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. in seven years took another turn Thursday.
A U.S. magistrate judge ordered the Humane Society of the United States and other animal rights advocates to post, for one month, a bond of $435,600 to two companies prepared to open horsemeat packing facilities.
The bond will cover expenses and lost profits for owners of the Valley Meat and Responsible Transportation of Sigourney, Iowa, should the companies eventually win in court.
On Aug. 2, a U.S. District Court judge granted a temporary restraining order that blocked the two facilities from opening this week. The judge agreed with attorneys for the Humane Society, Front Range Equine Rescue and other plaintiffs that the horse processing facilities could pose an environmental risk.
In response, the respective lawyers called for $10 million in bonds for a period of six months. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Hayes Scott ruled Thursday the one-month, $435,600 bond was appropriate, considering that within 30 days U.S. District Court Judge M. Christina Armijo will preside over another hearing on whether to grant the Humane Society and other opponents a preliminary injunction.
“The bond requires the plaintiffs to put their money where their mouth is,” Pat Rogers, attorney for Responsible Transportation, told the Associated Press. “There are real-life consequences to these actions and we’re appreciative of the judge recognizing that.”
The horse slaughterhouses have divided conservationists, politicians of both major parties and American Indian tribes in New Mexico. Supporters and critics beyond the state’s borders are watching closely.
The Navajo Nation has argued in favor of the Roswell facility, arguing that its estimates of anywhere between 20,000 to 75,000 feral horses on Navajo land are drinking up water and eating scarce vegetation.
But other tribes — including the Mescalero Apache — don’t want the slaughterhouse. “I’m against it,” Rep. James Roger Madalena, D-Jemez Pueblo, told New Mexico Watchdog earlier this week. “Horses are cultural symbols.”
The owners of Valley Meat Co. have a number of legal hurdles to clear, including a hearing from the New Mexico Environment Department over wastewater disposal at the plant. Last week, Dunn said the temporary restraining order from Armijo will keep the Roswell facility from opening for “six months, at least.”
Why not throw in the towel?
“It’s a matter of recovery” for owner Rick De Los Santos, Dunn said. “The only way to cover their losses is to stick it out to the end … Part of it is principle, too. They’re being told by people they appreciate their sticking to it.”
Update 8/9: It appears a third horse meat packing plant — this one in Missouri — is experiencing similar snags. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch posted a story Friday about a
judge ordering Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources to hold off issuing a waste-water permit to Rains Natural Meats until he can consider a lawsuit alleging that run-off from the plant could contaminate water and soil.
Contact Rob Nikolewski at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski