Update: At the Jan. 3, 2014, hearing, the temporary retraining order was extended by 10 days to Jan. 13, at which time the judge will hear oral arguments from the parties in the case.
New Mexico District Court Judge Matthew Wilson issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on Monday to prevent Valley Meat of Roswell, NM, from opening as planned on Wednesday, Jan. 1. The judge’s action halts horse slaughter operations at Valley Meat under USDA inspection at least until Friday, when a hearing is scheduled. The company plans to export horsemeat for human consumption, most likely to Asia and Europe.
Valley Meat’s plans were previously put on hold until Dec. 13, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit lifted an earlier TRO, stating it was likely that USDA and the company would prevail in an ongoing federal challenge. But, on Dec. 19, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King filed for a state TRO on somewhat different grounds.
“With the newly scheduled hearing, the court can now more fully consider the dangers posed by commercial horse slaughter and Valley Meat’s long history of non-compliance with existing laws,” King said in a statement issued after his office obtained the TRO.
King called commercial horse slaughter “a new untested enterprise that poses health and environmental risks to New Mexicans.”
“Horses in America are not raised to be eaten, and are widely administered drugs that are forbidden for use in food animals,” he added.
Blair Dunn, an attorney for Valley Meat, told the Albuquerque Journal that King’s allegations are not substantiated. He said the former beef plant will work through both the attorney general’s court challenge and its pending application for a state water discharge permit. Valley Meat is seeking a so-called “pump and haul” discharge permit, which Dunn said can be resolved with the state in a couple of weeks.
“Judge Wilson has only seen their side of the story so far,” Dunn said about the latest legal challenge. “I expect that when this judge gets all the facts put in front of him, he will dismiss this one, too.”
King’s request for a TRO was originally assigned to First District Judge Raymond Z. Ortiz, who had to recuse himself due to a peremptory challenge. The case was then assigned on Dec. 23 to Wilson, who is Santa Fe’s family court judge. He signed the TRO ahead of the hearing set for Friday and without any written arguments.© Food Safety News