U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Hayes Scott has postponed until Aug. 8 the bond hearing to determine how much the Humane Society of the United States and other plaintiffs should have to put up to obtain injunctive relief against two companies prepared to go into the horsemeat packing business.
The bond hearing was originally scheduled for Monday, but Scott opted to delay it to Thursday, saying he needed more time to hear arguments. Roswell, NM-based Valley Meat Co. and Sigourney, IA-based Responsible Transportation will argue a bond of several million dollars each is required.
The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has agreed to inspect horsemeat produced by the two companies, but New Mexico’s chief federal judge issued a restraining order on Friday to prevent the two companies from slaughtering horses while the issue is being disputed in her court.
Judge Christina Armijo has also agreed to schedule a hearing within 30 days on whether to grant the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction. Judges typically only grant a preliminary injunction if they believe there is a high degree of probability that the plaintiffs will prevail at trial. The bond is put up to cover the possibility they are wrong. In the meantime, her restraining order will remain in force.
Judge Scott’s order will allow attorneys to appear in person in the federal court in Albuquerque or participate in the proceedings by phone. His decision might not come right away, however, as the magistrate judge is going to entertain a discovery order during the hearing.
Also hanging over the proceedings is whatever action Congress might take later this year. The five-year ban on horse slaughter in the U.S. came about when Congress prohibited USDA from spending money on equine inspection. That prohibition was lifted two years ago, but at least the House Appropriations Committee wants it reinstated.
If an appeal is filed regarding the New Mexico court decisions, the case will move up Interstate 25 to the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.© Food Safety News