A third business has met all the statutory and regulatory requirements to require USDA to provide inspection services when it begins processing horsemeat for human consumption.
Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys representing USDA have informed the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico that it may want to expand its temporary restraining order against horse slaughter to include Rains Natural Meats in Gallatin, MO.
That restraining order currently only prevents USDA from providing inspection services to Valley Meat in New Mexico and Responsible Transportation in Iowa, the first two businesses to qualify since a five-year ban on spending federal money on horse slaughter inspections ended in 2012.
“When this court entered its temporary restraining order, Rains Natural Meats had not yet met the requirements for a grant of inspection, and thus the temporary restraining order expressly applies only to FSIS’s (Food Safety and Inspection Service’s) inspection of the Valley Meat and Responsible Transportation facilities,” the DOJ attorneys wrote, adding, “But circumstances have changed, and Rains Natural Meats is now eligible and requesting a grant of inspection.”
The government attorneys said that, while they were not waiving any of their earlier objections to federal Judge M. Christina Armijo’s order, they understood that she may want to amend it in light of the new reality.
Rains Natural Meats is a small meat and poultry slaughter and processing facility with about 5,300 square feet. Built in 1998, it has been a USDA-inspected facility for various meat and poultry processing since it was built, but the business has had difficulties due to the slow economic recovery.
Owner David Rains opted to file for an equine grant of inspection on Jan. 13. While waiting for the application to be approved, he told local media outlets that he’s been driving a school bus to pay his bills.
In its “Decision Memo,” USDA said the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) requires government inspectors to conduct ante-mortem inspection of all amenable species, including cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses, mules and other equines, including a post-mortem inspection of “carcasses and parts of all amenable species.”
“Horses, mules, and other equines have been among the livestock species that are amenable to the FMIA since it was amended by the Wholesome Meat Act in 1967,” wrote Philip S. Derfler, FSIS deputy administrator.
FSIS is required to conduct an examination and inspection of the methods of slaughter to ensure they are in compliance with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which calls for prevention of needless livestock suffering.
In the USDA memo, Derfler says the decision to provide inspection services under the FMIA “is purely ministerial because if a commercial horse slaughter plant meets all of the statutory and regulatory requirement for receiving a grant of federal inspection, FSIS has no discretion or authority under the FMIA to deny the grant on other grounds or to consider and choose among alternative ways to achieve the agency’s statutory objectives.”
“Therefore, a grant of federal inspection services under the FMIA is not a major federal action that is subject to NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) requirements,” he added.
Horse rescue and animal-welfare groups have sued in federal court in New Mexico, charging that NEPA requires USDA to conduct environmental reviews before granting inspection services for horse slaughter. Judge Armijo granted a temporary restraining order just ahead of the start dates for Valley Meat and Responsible Transportation.
In a separate proceeding, a federal magistrate has ruled that a plaintiff’s bond of almost $500,000 per month might be required to cover potential losses by the defendants while the case is argued. The bond is intended to compensate the defendants if the plaintiffs lose.
Government attorneys then suggested the case be accelerated and the plaintiffs agreed. Both sides are now preparing briefs that should frame the issues for the judge to decide by about Oct. 10. After she rules, the losing side will likely appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
About 175,000 horses from the United States are exported for slaughter each year to Canada and Mexico. New USDA-inspected horse-slaughter facilities in the U.S. would export horsemeat for human consumption to areas of the world where there is a demand, mainly Europe and Asia.© Food Safety News