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Animal Law Expert Wants Court to Ban Horse Slaughter in the U.S.

UPDATE:  Because the temporary restraining order in the case discussed below expires at midnight Thursday, all sides expected a ruling from the federal judge today, but that did not happen.  Food Safety News will monitor overnight and early morning developments.

Four months into litigation aimed at preventing horses from being legally slaughtered in the United States, animal law attorney Bruce A. Wagman is already citing Front Range Equine Rescue v. Vilsack as one of the “illustrative representations” of his experience.

Others might just call it a win. M. Christina Armijo, chief U.S. District Court judge for New Mexico, has already granted Wagman’s clients a temporary restraining order in the case. He wants a permanent injunction against USDA inspecting any horse-slaughter facilities in the U.S.

Wagman and Rocky N. Unruh, an expert in complex trials, are San Francisco attorneys from the national Schiff Hardin law firm, which has 400 attorneys based out of Chicago. Among the 15 plaintiffs Wagman and Unruh represent is one definitely large enough to pay their fees, the Humane Society of the United States.

With prestigious offices on L Street in Washington, D.C., and annual revenues that were approaching $200 million when last reported two years ago, HSUS is a nonprofit that can easily keep Wagman and Unruh in its legal stable.

In addition to more than two decades of experience litigating animal law cases, Wagman literally wrote the book on the subject. His “Animal Law: Cases and Materials” is in its fourth edition as a law school textbook.

Wagman’s job this time is to stop three small businesses located in rural areas of Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico that saw an opportunity two years ago when the federal government’s ban on horse slaughter was lifted. All three went through an extensive process in requesting a so-called “grant of inspection” from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

Plaintiffs filed to block that from happening just as USDA decided to provide inspection services to the three businesses, Responsible Transportation in Iowa, Rains Natural Meats in Missouri, and Valley Meats in New Mexico. All three planned to pack horsemeat for export.

That’s when Wagman won the temporary restraining order. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys for the three named defendants in the case — Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen and FSIS Administrator Al Almanza — then suggested speeding up the case by skipping all preliminary arguments.

Wagman and Unruh agreed. For the past six weeks, there’s been a flurry of motions and arguments going back and forth. And while there has been no scheduled or target date announced for Armijo’s ruling on the merits of the case, Wagman seems to be winning the preliminary decisions.

For example, Armijo ruled against the government when USDA sought to have the Declaration of Dr. Daniel L. Engeljohn entered as a supplement to the administrative record. Engeljohn is arguably USDA’s top expert on horse slaughter and was the official directly in charge of the administrative process.

Also, the magistrate judge responsible for processing requests for injunction bonds denied the request of Rains Natural Meats. Valley Meats and Responsible Transportation, which were both included in the original injunction, did require bonds, but Rains was not because it came later.

However, since USDA was enjoined by additional court action from providing inspection services to Rains, that business faces similar jeopardy.

In addition to the plaintiffs represented by the Schiff Hardin attorneys, the State of New Mexico has intervened on their side of the case. Assistant Attorney General Ari Biernoff is representing New Mexico.

DOJ attorneys Alison D. Garner, Andrew A. Smith and Robert G. Dreher are representing USDA. Dreher is the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. for environment and natural resources.

The three business and numerous others have intervened on the government side. The most active attorney among several for those interests is A. Blair Dunn of Albuquerque.

Meanwhile, the law the Oklahoma Legislature passed last May to permit horse slaughter in that state takes effect on Friday, Nov. 1. Under the new law, any horse-slaughter facility would require approval from USDA, and officials say there are no applications in the works at this time.

© Food Safety News
  • Kathy Heinisch

    Randomly Gathered Horses Bred for every reason
    OTHER than Consumption Have No Place in The Human Food Chain or In The
    Consumer Markets. Try Sourcing Beef,Pork or Poultry in the same manner
    And Watch Those Markets Collapse once
    Consumers catch wind of it…Random Gathers by kill buyers, whose only concern is meeting quota..no way of
    tracing back to a producer..no background or history on
    medical/drug/illnesses..not raised by a dedicated producer under ANY
    food safety Guidelines, Regulations, or Protocols.. Horses Should not be
    and never should have been the exception to every food safety
    regulation applied to every other commercially bred/raised/ slaughtered animal.. USA
    Horses Have NO place in the Human Food Chain.Slaughter is for Food
    Production, Not A disposal System for displaced animals.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

    A lot of errors in this writing, Dan.

    First, the lawsuit is challenging the USDA’s decision to grant horse slaughter permits without performing an environmental impact analysis, per NEPA. If Judge Armijo agrees with the plaintiffs, the USDA won’t be able to issue permits until it performs the required NEPA analysis. It doesn’t permanently enjoin the USDA from issuing permits.

    The hope is to pass the SAFE Act, currently in Congress, that would permanently ban horse slaughter for food. At a minimum, the new farm bill has an amendment to defund hose slaughter inspections again.

    You discuss three small businesses, without mentioning that there are some fairly big corporate interests from Japan, Europe, and elsewhere fighting on the same side as these three small businesses. So much for the “David vs. Goliath” spin.

    Rains wasn’t added to the bond because Judge Armijo extended the restraining order related to Rains opening shop by prohibiting the USDA from performing a horse meat inspection at the plant. So Rains isn’t prohibited, it’s the USDA that’s prohibited. Because of the correction in who is being restrained, Rains can’t be added to the Bond.

    It’s a more appropriate decision, since the plaintiffs are suing the USDA, not the individual plants.

    The Judge ruled against the Englejohn supplement because it went against what’s allowed in this type of case, not because she’s somehow discounting his expertise. This case is brought under the Administrative Procedures Act, which limits what can be introduced (typically only the Administrative Record associated with the decision that’s being challenged).

    And Judge Armijo has committed to making a decision today.

    For those interested in accessing the court documents:

    http://docs.burningbird.net/horse/courtcase/

    • iamneanderthal

      Shelly, where in the new farm bill is the amendment to defund inspections? I have been reading it and can’t locate the exact place it is. I saw the appropriations bills passed by the house and senate, in fact, include the amendments to defund inspections.

      • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

        This article discusses the amendments. As far as I know, these are still in the works.

        http://brownfieldagnews.com/2013/06/21/measure-defunds-horse-processing-inspection/

      • Claudia_Daigle

        I believe the 2014 Budget defunds FSIS inspections for horse meat. The Farm Bill contains the King Amendment which jeopardizes all state animal welfare and humane treatment laws and must be struck out of the bill before passing.>It is the quarterhorse breeding industry, the cattle industry, and the fracking industry that want horse slaughter plants. The breeding industry keeps breeding with no regard for the horses. The industry needs to be regulated. We know why the cattle industry wants to get rid of our horses, especially our iconic wild horses….they want more public grazing land, and the fracking industry…..yes, I just heard a talk BLM’s Sally Jewell gave at the Natl Press Club today, 10/31. She was asked about our wild horse and burro program and would they be doing more fracking? She hesitated, then responded that they would be leasing out more of our public lands to fracking and that she understands the concerns people have re our wild horses and burros…. I read that the fracking industry has not been cleaning up their fracking water on our public lands, and the horses have been drinking the water which contains uranium. So, roundup the evidence? The roundups are frightening to the horses, some fall and break legs, necks, pregnant mares fall from exhaustion and give birth, young foals are being left behind to die while their mothers are taken…The BLM complains about overpopulation but, have never agreed to doing counts. The American people must look closely at what is happening at the BLM. I thought it was timely that in Ms. Jewell’s talk today, she would choose to quote an iconic line from a Joni Mitchell song, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone..”

    • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

      Wanted to correct myself: not a “lot of errors”, but definitely errors, or more accurately, misunderstandings.

    • iamneanderthal

      Shelly I agree, the angle here is to prolong the process as long as possible so Congress can either pass the Safe Act ( which would harm the horse industry even further than the defunding language has in the past per the GAO report et al) or get the appropriation bills passed that defunds inspections. USDA is playing political games instead of doing their jobs. If the safe Act is passed the economic impact will be at half billion dollars, if the TRO is approved the NEPA will be applied to other slaughter plants seeking inspections making this a more costly endeavor and endangering our food sources/supply of meat.

      • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

        Just a few clarifications: The TRO is a temporary restraining order, that ended yesterday.

        NEPA, or the National Environmental Policy Act. enters the equation only once, when an agency decision is made (such as the decision of how to manage testing for drugs routinely administered to horses during the horse meat process). The agency is mandated to perform an environmental assessment, and possibly prepare an environmental impact statement. That, or provide a categorical exclusion.

        If the Judge agrees with the plaintiffs, the USDA will not be able to perform any inspections for horse meat processing at any plant until they comply with NEPA requirements. No plant can then process horse meat for human consumption until they get inspectors.

        None of this has any impact on any inspection services provided at plants that process other types of meat.

    • Eileen O’Connor

      Per the “David vs. Goliath” tack, the player with the most prestigious D.C. address (The Watergate), and possibly deepest pockets in this lawsuit is the lobbying/law firm of Olsson Frank Weeda (OFW). http://www.ofwlaw.com. As a private law firm, they are not required to disclose earnings, but I am guessing they easily eclipse anything the HSUS can bring. Several OFW lawyers are in this case directly on behalf of Intervenor Defendants, and I expect OFW’s “Senior Policy Advisor” (and 2013 “Beef Booster of the Year”) Charles W. Stenholm is a great resource for anyone hoping to become a horse slaughterer.

  • Matilda

    I am having a hard time understanding how people that are against humane slaughter plants think that starvation and abuse is more humane than a quick humane death by captive bolt? How much experience do these people have in the real equine world? I think probably their only exposure to the equine world are the movies, My Little Pony, Disney and other idealistic forms of the horse world. The real picture is pretty sickening when you see these animals starving due to lack of forage or lack of a home where owners can afford to feed them. I wish all these idealistic fools would try going without food & water for a few weeks and see which end of life they would prefer?

    • Laurie

      Oh my Matilda. Disney I think not. Most anti-slaughter are horse owners. We know the problem lies within the horse industry. I wish kill buyers would stop dumping their starved, dehydrated horses on public land because they won’t be accepted by the plants. FACT: Slaughter plants want horses in good weight. There is no money to be made on starving horses when meat is sold by the pound.

    • JanWindsong

      I think your experience must be the one in Disney land if you think that commercial slaugher for horses is humane? You should take your rose colored glasses off and realize that the only people who would starve and abuse their horses are the same ones that would send them to slaughter. Obviously. If you contend that slaughter will end the abuse of horses – well there you have it.

      • Bonnie Andrews

        Well, my best friend who worked at a horse slaughter plant when they were still operating in the U.S. years ago is dead set against it. She does not have rose colored glasses. She saw the horror of horse slaughter up close. In this video she describes one incident of many. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhvbSgRl1Vw

    • morgansinkc

      Matilda, we have laws against starving or abusing a horse. Here is more information on how inhumane horse slaughter is, courtesy of Janna Lukens:

      “** Horse Slaughter is NOT “Humane” **
      Horse slaughter is INHUMANE. Former Chief USDA Inspector Dr. Lester Friedlander, BA DVM, told Congress in 2006: “The captive bolt used to slaughter horses is simply not effective. These animals regainconsciousness 30 seconds after being struck, they are fully aware they are being vivisected.”

      Once the horse is shot with the captive bolt or slug, they are hung upside down by their hooves and cut open to bleed out, most of the time awakening during this process. Their screams of pain and fear are heard for miles.

      The cost to the American taxpayer is approximately $400k per facility per year. These monies could be put to more humane options, such as hay banks for the needy, gelding clinics, euthanasia clinics, breeding regulations, and rehoming efforts, just to name a few.”

    • Nancy Albin

      Matilda, get educated before making stupid comments like that! And if you know exactly what you are talking about you are on the wrong website. BYE BYE

    • Nancy Albin

      Matilda, which video would you prefer to see first? The one where the horses are skinned alive or the one where the captive bolt is taking out there eyes & making there faces so bad with bones sticking out & they are still not dead or the round ups where the horses are ran so bad that there hooves fall off & the helicopter is literally hitting them riding on there backs or maybe J & R assoc. are making them stand up by pulling them up by there tails when they collapse from exhaustion? Which one? you can go to my YOUTube & look at my playlist & see all of them. Then come back & re-read your comment.

    • Deedie

      I am having a hard time understanding how anyone could consider slaughtering horses humane. I’ve owned horses most of my life and I still have four. One of them has been with me since she was a year old. She is now 31. I can tell you right now, if given a choice between starvation and slaughter, I would choose starvation and I’m certain a wild animal or a pet would choose the same. At least with starvation there is a chance you might not die. Now that I’ve entertained that ridiculous notion, let’s look at the reality of horse slaughter. It isn’t My Little Pony or Disney either. Nor is it the “idealistic” sort of death you seem to think acceptable for horses. The captive bolt is the terrifying end to a horrifying ride from auction on a crowded trailer with other frightened horses, to be dumped in a kill pen and await death while those around you are slaughtered one by one, the stench of death, the walk down the death chute, into the kill box where the “quick humane death of a captive bolt” is actually not so quick but takes a few licks to get it right, (because horses just don’t like being shot between the eyes).. then yanked up by the back legs to have your throat slit so you can bleed out while still alive & kicking…yeah…sounds real nice. I also wonder what sort of “fool” thinks that horses will starve if they aren’t slaughtered. Maybe you should lobby to get some animal abuse laws established in your state if there is such a large population of starving horses in your region. Slaughter isn’t the answer.

    • Brenda Tyrrell

      Supporting horse slaughter because of irresponsibility only promotes more irresponsibility. If horse slaughter prevented abuse and starvation we wouldn’t be seeing any of it right now because horse slaughter has always been an option. Horse slaughter never has been and never will be about equine welfare. Also, ignoring all the other problems inherent in horse slaughter such as the environmental, food safety, and criminal aspects is irresponsible. Your simplistic approach that horse slaughter in the US will prevent abuse and starvation isn’t backed up by the facts.

    • Sonny

      The captive bolt quick and humane?? You my friend need to educate yourself instead of thinking everyone else is in lala land……Seriously??

  • WHOANM

    At the public hearing the the ground water discharge permit for Valley Meats, Mr. De Los Santos stated he was using a renderer. He answered that this renderer was in Dallas. When asked who was his renderer he stated that he could not remember the name. Remember that statements at this administrative hearing were made under oath. The question is, does he have a renderer that has agreed to take these wastes?

    • JanWindsong

      The question is actually – if he cannot recall the name of the renderer who would take off his shoulders the burden of having to require a ground water discharge permit, does he really have one? Wouldn’t that be a very important bit of information to take to court with you? I think he is waiting for the storm to pass, he gets his permit and does as he has always done. He is lying.
      Also, just how does he plan to convey thousands of pounds of bone, offal and blood across the country to Dallas, TX? Boy won’t that be a fun drive.

  • iamneanderthal

    Apparently the HSUS et al suggest the ability to oversee the agency’s administrator, Al Almanza, what exactly his discretion should be for making decisions that are the head of the agency’s sole discretion.

    • Daisy

      Sounds like somebody’s off their meds.

  • WHOANM

    Garbage Feed (rendered meats): It’s whats coming for dinner! Valley Meats have stated they will be sending their waste stream to a renderer in Dallas however, since the mad cow scares, everyone thinks that livestock or animals raised as food are no longer fed animal by products or rendered wastes. But according to the Union of Concerned Scientists http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/industrial-agriculture/they-eat-what-the-reality-of.html this only applies to ruminants. Rendered animal products are fed to “food animals” pigs, etc. that are not ruminants.

    “Under current law, pigs, chickens, and turkeys that have been fed rendered cattle can be rendered and fed back to cattle—a loophole that may allow mad cow agents to infect healthy cattle.

    Animal feed legally can contain rendered road kill, dead horses, and euthanized cats and dogs.

    Rendered feathers, hair, skin, hooves, blood, and intestines can also be found in feed, often under catch-all categories like “animal protein products.” Looks like Horse Meat will have a direct route into the American Food Chain through other livestock even without the kind of meat mixing scandals seen recently in the Europe. The final decision on this ground water discharge permit will be made by a cabinet member of NM Governor Martinez in February.

  • Shane

    from Shane – here we go again Matilda (a.k.a Sue Wallis, Mindy etc.) same old lies about either horses starve to death or are terrorized to death in a slaughter plant. How about neither? Get your friends in the horse breeding business to stop and your friends in the cattle business to stop overgrazing public lands, then no horse is in any danger of either starving or being slaughtered.If the revolution ever happens “Matilda”, you and your small cult of profiteers will be sentenced forever to shovel real horse shit from stalls instead of this tired old variety on such forums. P.S. David Rains of Rains “Natural” Meats has stated that he would shoot horses in the face with a shotgun not a captive bolt. Sound like a “Humane” way of killing horses ? Those opposed to horse slaughter are often horse owners, not likely to derive their view of horses from “My Little Pony” or films. Those pushing horse slaughter like yourselves are not very likely to have ever seen the reality of horse slaughter. I’m guessing your idea of it is shutting your eyes against the grim reality from which you profit, rather like those in Germany who didn’t ask questions about where all those trains were going during a similar rule by sociopaths or what “Final Solution” really might mean.

  • http://www.townandcountrygirlsrealestate.com/ Paula Denmon

    Very smart and articulate commentors have pointed out the inaccuracies of this article. I will not recycle those. But I do want to point out that Americans do not eat horses because we honor the contribution that they have made to our history and because they are companion animals. Eighty percent of the American people do not want our horses slaughtered. Why is that not a reason to do away with this constant fight to do so?

  • Shane

    from Shane to iamneanderthal – thank you for truth in advertising at least in picking your screen name ! I believe Jenna Lukens has before pointed out the habit you pro slaughter shills have of “projection” psychologically: accusing your critics of precisely what you do yourself. E.g. 1) opponents of horse slaughter are “endangering ” food sources by delaying horse meat inspections that have not begun yet ? Sorry this doesn’t even get off the ground logically in the first place; 2) by trying to palm off horse meat contaminated with drugs already deemed unfit for human consumption abroad, it is you pro slaughter profiteers who are causing far greater harm than

    your alleged (unsourced ) figure of losses due to passage of the SAFE act ! Check out the figures for plummeting beef sales in Europe since the public learned it might be adulterated with horse meat. Your backers in the beef industry are doing the very thing that will destroy themselves economically by siding with pro horse slaughter fringe groups. It isn’t HSUS or PETA that are creating more vegans, it’s your own greed ironically !; 3) again, another case of blaming the victim:
    implying that HSUS is dictating what Americans should eat and pay taxes to support when in fact 75% of all Americans polled opposed slaughter houses for human consumption. It is your tiny minority of obsessed profiteers who are dictating policy to the government and taxpayers not HSUS who are trying to defend them from tax money misused to contaminate our common environment. 4) what a farce, also implied in the article, that HSUS is the corporate Goliath backed by all the money.! It is instead the David armed only with the sling of speaking Truth to Power.

  • Brenda Tyrrell

    Concerned citizen of New Mexico wants court to ban horse slaughter in the US because of the environmental, food safety, equine welfare and criminal violations inherent in the horse slaughter industry. De Los Santos of Valley Meats in Roswell, NM couldn’t slaughter cattle humanely and yet he wants the public to believe that he would slaughter horses humanely. Dennis Chavez, owner of Southwest Livestock auction, in Los Lunas, NM has an export to slaughter operation and has 12 charges of equine cruelty pending for dead and dying horses on his feedlot. He has also had numerous transportation violations. Add to that the fact that horses are routinely given drugs and chemicals during their lifetime that are permanently banned substances in food animals and it is obvious why horse slaughter in the US and their transportation to foreign countries for slaughter should be permanently banned.

  • Rollingsworth_T_Vestibule

    Horses are cute and shouldn’t be eaten. Eat a , ahhhh, Badger. Yeah, hat’s it, eat Badgers and Groundhogs, but leave the Horses alone! Let then die naturally in the woods like heir ancestors did.

  • Nancy Albin

    I think this is a great thing thank you for all your hard work attorney(s) Bruce A. Wagman I hope the American people will take action if needed you have my support definitely to end horse slaughter houses in America & everyone needs to make contacts to get the SAFE ACT signed By the President Obama It is sitting on the desk being overlooked I’m sorry but they have passed laws behind closed doors in 7 days with no public notice that’s why the Oklahoma slaughter house opens tomorrow this is all on our gov/pres etc so all they (he) has to do is pick up the pen & he won’t there pockets are so full from profiting off of our money meanwhile we are struggling to survive! I’m very sick of our government it makes me sick how they are handling our country

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

    Well, color me surprised.

    We received no decision from the judge, yesterday, and the TRO has now ended.

    True, the judge didn’t have to arrive at a decision by yesterday, but now we’re in a pickle: no decision, and no TRO.

    I expect at least a mini-flurry of filings today. Or at least, I hope so.