SANTA FE, N.M. — A New Mexico judge will decide Friday whether a Roswell company can move ahead with plans for slaughtering horses.
State District Judge Matthew Wilson made the announcement after a hearing Monday on a request from Attorney General Gary King's office for a preliminary injunction against Valley Meat Co.
King has filed a lawsuit alleging the company's operations would violate state environmental and food safety laws.
The plant was blocked from opening last year after animal protection groups brought a federal lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture for issuing permits to Valley and two other companies, which would become the first domestic horse slaughtering plants in seven years. A federal judge threw out that lawsuit. King filed the state case after a federal appeals court declined to keep the plants shuttered.
King asked Wilson on Monday to block Valley Meat Co., a Roswell company, from starting the slaughter of horses because the plant's operation could contaminate groundwater and there's no guarantee the meat would be safe for human consumption.
Assistant Attorney General Ari Biernoff said there was a lack of information about drugs that had been administered to horses that would be slaughtered. The drugs typically would not have been approved for animals that become food for humans.
"The meat would not be safe or fit for human consumption," Biernoff told the judge.
William Olson, a hydrologist and former administrator for the state's water quality regulatory agency, testified that Valley Meat had a long history of violations of New Mexico's environmental rules and for several years operated without a required permit for discharging wastes from its cattle slaughtering operations.
Olson, who's working as a consultant for the attorney general's office, said shallow groundwater in the area could be contaminated with wastes that the plant intends to pump into concrete septic tanks and lined lagoons. Those wastes might contain drugs that had been administered to horses.
Valley's attorney, Blair Dunn, said the judge should rule against the attorney general because a federal court already had decided the horse slaughtering dispute.
"This threat of imminent harm is just not there," said Dunn, who contends that the state also lacks jurisdiction because the meat would be shipped overseas.
Dunn has accused King of conspiring with animal protection groups to block a lawful business with a frivolous lawsuit to further his gubernatorial bid.
Valley Meat and companies in Missouri and Iowa last year won federal permits to become the first horse slaughterhouses to operate since Congress effectively banned the practice by cutting funding for inspections at plants in 2006. The last of the domestic plants closed in 2007. Congress reinstated the funding in 2011.
Valley Meat owner Rick De Los Santos has led the effort to force the Department of Agriculture to permit the horse slaughter plants, sparking an emotional, national debate on whether horses are livestock or companion animals.
Animal protection groups argue the practice is barbaric.
Proponents argue it is better to slaughter unwanted horses domestically than have them shipped thousands of miles to Canada or less humane facilities in Mexico.
"This is an option that New Mexico needs. This is a lawful business," Dunn said.