12/21/2012 2:06PM

Meat company sues USDA over slaughterhouse

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Valley Meat Co., which hopes to build a new horse slaughterhouse in New Mexico, has filed a federal lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture, saying the agency’s delay in responding to Valley Meat’s application has cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.

By failing to act on the application, Valley Meat claims, the USDA “interfered with horse slaughter despite an unequivocal Congressional demand designed to allow horse slaughter.” In passing a federal appropriations act for 2012, Congress voted to restore funding for federal meat inspectors at horse slaughterhouses, although currently no such slaughterhouses operate in the US. A federal provision had prohibited funding equine slaughterhouse inspections in 2006, a move that contributed to the 2007 closure of the last U.S. slaughterhouses, in Texas and Illinois.

Valley Meat Co. filed its suit against the USDA Oct. 19 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In the suit, Valley Meat contends that the USDA assured it that the agency “could immediately provide inspections now that funding had been reinstituted,” informed the company of requirements to operate a horse slaughterhouse, and “assured Plaintiff once they had completed the same that they would be issued a Grant of Inspection,” and that Valley Meat had met the requirements. “USDA officials have repeatedly made statements that this issue is ‘political’ and relied upon that as the reason that they have failed to act according to the directives of Congress thus arbitrarily and capriciously failing to act,” the suit states.

On Dec. 7, Valley Meat and its owner, Ricardo De Los Santos, also sued the Humane Society of the United States and two animal welfare groups, Front Range Equine Rescue and Animal Protection New Mexico, asserting that they defamed the company and the De Los Santos family in an effort to shut the slaughter business down.

According to an Associated Press report on Friday, the USDA would not comment on pending litigation, but an attorney for Front Range said the second suit was “completely false and frivolous.”