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USA Beef earns permit that stymied horse slaughter in NM

Legal horse slaughter in the U.S. made its last stand at 3845 Cedarvale Road, six miles southeast of Roswell, NM. USA Beef Packing has returned to the once-controversial location to open the state’s only beef-packing plant.

The opening came with a ribbon-cutting and a warm embrace from New Mexico  Gov. Susana Martinez. John Mulcahy, president of the local Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., hailed USA Beef for making $5.4 million in upgrades at the former Valley Meat Co. and for bringing 57 new jobs to the area.

Gov. Martinez support for USA Beef’s move into New Mexico included $400,000 from the state’s Local Economic Development Act funds, used for closing deals to recruit new businesses.

Not previously known for moving quickly, however, is another state agency — the New Mexico Environment Department (ED). USA Beef got its groundwater discharge permit. The final permit is dated Aug. 21, 2017, and remains in effect until Aug. 20, 2022.

From roughly 2011 to 2014, a deal President Obama made with Congress theoretically made it possible for the USDA to provide inspection services for the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Valley Meat Co. came closest, but New Mexico’s attorney general’s office blocked the opening in state court.

Issues involving the state water discharge permit were a big help in blocking the horse slaughter plant. USA Beef faced the same issues. Its permission slip in draft form ran 22 pages. It was released June 9.

The New Mexico Environmental Department received 21 comments from eight “interested parties,” who are raising issues about the beef slaughter and packing plant that is not that much different than concerns expressed about groundwater discharge from the once-planned horse slaughter facility.

New Mexico ED does not hold public hearings or conduct environmental reviews before issuing groundwater discharge permits, which mostly go to agricultural operations. In response to comments on USA Beef’s application, state officials say “the bulk of blood and manure are required to be hauled offsite and disposed of following all federal, state, and local regulations.”

Groundwater is 10 feet below the surface and less than 150 feet from the South Springs River, which in turn is one mile from the Pecos River and near the Bottomless Lakes and Wildlife Bird Refuge.

New Mexico ED says USA Beef must re-certify the structural integrity of an existing wastewater lagoon. “Synthetically lined lagoons or impoundments are an environmentally sound way to dispose of facility wastewater,” the agency said in response to one submitted comment.

A former beef plant, the Roswell facility has not been used since 2012.

The newly refurbished facility will slaughter 150 head of cattle a day. New Mexico ED says the proposed discharge volume will be sufficient to handle the effluent. The storage capacity of 4.49 acre-feet is enough to contain 8,000 gallons per day for 161 days.

Jose Madrid is the new owner of the facility that will be operated by USA Beef. New Mexico ED says there is no evidence he has any ties to the former owners.

Some commenters remain suspicious about the possibility the Roswell facility might be used for horse slaughter in the future. New Mexico ED says discharge permits are transferable, but changes in the composition of the wastewater would likely require a modification of the permit and include the public.

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