UPDATE: Valley Meat Co., now seeking a grant of inspection to allow it to slaughter horses for export, had its beef slaughter inspectors pulled from the plant for five days for the company’s inhumane treatment of animals.

The incident resulting in the suspension occurred on Feb. 24, 2012 when both an employee using a  .40 caliber pistol and a backup .410 shotgun failed to humanely kill an animal. None of the first four shots penetrated the skull.  The USDA inspector on site immediately took regulatory action by tagging the knocking area, shutting down further slaughter operations.

Roswell, NM-based Valley Meat Co. was informed on Feb. 29 that the suspension was being held in abeyance after USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) was provided written assurances on how the company would make sure  that there would be  no further occurrences of inhumane handling.

The 7,290 square foot beef plant was closed because of the deteriorating beef market, according to owner Ricardo De Los Santos.  He wants to use the ten acre Roswell site to slaughter horses for export to keep the business alive.

Our original story continues below.

The New Mexico slaughterhouse is the first since a 2007 ban was lifted to apply for federal inspection of a horsemeat-for-export operation.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has not said how long it will take to process – one way or the other – the application of Valley Meat Co. of Roswell, NM.

New Mexico rancher Rick De Los Santos, owner of Valley Meat Co., says he plans on exporting to Mexico. He says the horses he plans to slaughter would end up being slaughtered anyway under lower standards than will be employed by USDA.

The last three horse slaughter operations in the U.S. shut down in 2007 after federal courts upheld state statues in Texas and Illinois banning the sale and possession of horsemeat and the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

In addition, Congress banned the use of appropriated funds for USDA inspection of horse slaughter operations beginning in 2007.  Around Thanksgiving 2011, shortly after pardoning a turkey, President Obama agreed to lift that ban. A House-Senate Conference Committee had approved it.

Since then, it has only been a question of who would come forward with a genuine application for federal inspection services.  For a time, it appeared as if that might be Wyoming lawmaker Sue Wallis, who heads up a company called Unified Equine, which wanted to commence slaughtering horses at a facility in Mountain Grove, MO.

Mountain Grove residents objected, and Unified Equine is looking elsewhere in Missouri.

Into the breach has stepped New Mexico’s Valley Meat Co., previously a beef slaughter facility that due to prices has become unprofitable. De Los Santos makes a pretty straightforward argument — the New Mexico facility will slaughter horses under USDA standards that are far higher than non-existent standards in Mexico.

The horsemeat would be for human consumption, but only outside the U.S.

Horsemeat may have a niche market in the U.S., especially among immigrants from locations around the world where eating horse meat is common. However, the vast majority of Americans find eating horse meat repugnant, seeing the animals either as companions or free spirits that should be allowed to run wild.

The American view, however, is seen as weird by people in South American, China, Japan, and many European countries including France, Italy and Switzerland, where horsemeat is viewed as lean, finely textured, slightly sweet, rich in protein and tender.

There is no risk of bovine diseases or E. coli in horsemeat, which puts it on the safe scale.  It’s sold widely as minced meats, sausages, brochettes and steaks. Demand outside of the U.S. is strong, making the New Mexican application easy to understand.

Also since the 2007 ban, horse values in the U.S. have plummeted, causing many animals to be left abandoned and starving. U.S. horse slaughter shifted to Canada and Mexico and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) questioned whether horses being shipped out of the country were being hurt more than they would with an in-country slaughter facility.

So, the $65 million a year horse slaughter industry might be coming back to the U.S., and the New Mexico facility might be the first step along that road.

In its application for federal inspection, De Los Santos has delivered to FSIS a:

– Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan, meaning a food safety “process control program”

– A Sanitation Standard Operating Procedure

– A suitable facility, where it says the walls, floors and ceilings are cleanable; impervious to moisture, insects and vermin; and meeting other sanitary requirements

FSIS has the Valley Meats application under review, but has not said how soon it will announce a decision. The Roswell slaughterhouse, which laid off employees due to the high cost of beef, might need as many as 50 employees if it got the green light to enter the horse slaughter business.

“All we’re doing is trying to make a living,” De Los Santo told a local newspaper.  “My whole life is invested in this business.”

That is not good enough, however, for New Mexico’s top elected officials, who’ve come out against horse slaughter in their state. The popular Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is joined by Democratic officials, Attorney General Gary King and State Land Commissioner Ray Powell, in opposing the application.

When horses are exported for slaughter, they are required to have a “Fitness to Travel to a Slaughter Facility,” stating that the horse is over 6 months of age, not blind in both eyes, can bear weight on all fours, is able to walk unassisted and not likely to give birth during transport. However, USDA last year told the U.S. Government Accountability Office that some horses are exported as “feeder” horses, likely ultimately sent to slaughter facilities but not counted that way immediately.

With horses for slaughter — about 130,000 a year — going to Mexico and Canada, the GAO report said horse sales and prices have both declined since the 2007 when the ban in the U.S. became effective at both the state and federal levels.

GAO, in a 2011 report, said the least valuable horses became almost 21 percent less valuable after the ban. The end result was that abandoned, abused and neglected horses became a burden on state and local governments, tribes and animal welfare organizations.

One situation mentioned in the GAO report involved a Billings, MT ranch that in January 2011 could no longer care for its horses, which were seized and caused such a burden on state and county resources that only a plea to the public saved the animals.

  • Several things wrong with this writing.
    First, it doesn’t take into account the problems these plants generate for the surrounding community, and for the environment.
    Secondly, it feeds into the “oh, it’s for the horses”, bull, which is anything but true.
    In 2006, a truck filled with horses overturned outside St. Louis in Missouri. That truck was carrying horses to the slaughter house in Illinois. It had young, healthy horses. It even had one pregnant horse. There was 61 horses crammed into that single truck–many of whom were killed when the truck crashed.
    Now you tell me: by what stretch of the imagination is this “humane”?
    Then you don’t even touch on the fact that horses are routinely given medications that are denied for animals intended to be food. And this is most likely the reason this meat won’t be available in this country.
    It’s more likely this plant, and others like it, will end up generation more horse breeding, rather than less.
    There’s also never been a humane slaughter house for horses. These place try to use the same procedures for horses they use for cows, but they’re completely different animals. The horses suffer, regardless. There is nothing “humane” about this option at all.
    The only solution to the “horse problem” in this country is holding people responsible for the horses they breed.
    Next time, you might want to do more than just re-print a press release when you write a story. You might want to do some actual investigation.

  • LynnIL

    Do not listen to this guy De Los Santos, he is a liar. He is not trying to create jobs. His plant was closed for inhumane animal cruelty by the Feds. He is switching to horses so he doesn’t have to go to court to get back his permit to kill cattle. If he can’t be humane to cattle how is he going to be humane to horses? Do not let this guy open a horse slaughter plant.

  • Jennifer Facer Brown

    How can you possibly report that these countries view US as weird? Some of these countries slaughter dogs and cats, so am I supposed to accept that fact in the USA. Because another country does something and views us as sacked, does not mean its humane. China is one of the most inhumane countries there is, towards people and animals. Now ask those countries how they feel about toxic horsemeat. Ask them how they feel about the fact that American horses are not raised for human consumption and are given dangerous meds. I do not care and neither do most Americans, about how other countries view our culture. Still, many of those countries wish they were America, with our Freedoms and laws. Let me tell ya, cruelty and inhumanity is not something our country holds as a value. Horses are…Say no to the cruel, inhumane, environmentally damaging, greedy, deceitful and bottom of the barrel horse slaughter industry. Leave our American Iconic Horse Herd alone…

  • Debra Lawrence

    FSIS is very cognizant of humane slaughter methods. I am not sure how Shelly got the idea that the methods used to render horses “insensible” or effectively surgically anesthetized prior to cutting, casting or hanging is inhumane. I have personally witness horse slaughter in a USDA inspected plant and the horses are not treated inhumanely. They are rendered unconscious by a single, carefully directed blow to the forehead from a captive bolt device. In other words, they never knew what hit them.
    As for medications, FSIS and FDA monitor for drug residues in all slaughter species. If you think the US is picky about residues, try the European Union.

    • Guest hh

      Debra Lawrence. You are an inhumane witch! What were you doing at a horse slaughter anyway, selling your poor horse? Ugh. you sound as cold, heartless and empty as the killers. I hope you choke on your horse steak or at least get some freaking deadly disease! Maybe someone will render you the same wonderful way they do to the horses at the USDA kill plant.

  • Debra Lawrence:
    Veterinarians for Equine Welfare provides several video clips showing horses killed by captive bolt, and those euthanized by a vet. It’s obvious which of the practices is humane, is which isn’t.
    Mary Nash’s web site has more video, both of horse slaughter and horse transportation. There is nothing “humane” about any of it.
    The horse slaughter people saying horse slaughterhouses are humane for horses, is no different than the raw milk folks saying that there’s “special stuff” in milk that makes it safe to drink, raw.
    It’s all a self-serving myth.

  • Jo-Claire Corcoran

    It really doesn’t matter what another country thinks of what we eat, that becomes a slippery slope for them. What does matter is what we, as a country, believe to be right and just. What I do not believe is right and just is promoting the slaughter and exporting of a meat we do not raise as food and therefore is not raised under the same food safety guidelines we raise our actual food animals.
    I find it reprehensible that the author would completely negate the above as well as the fact this plant in NM, was shut down on Feb 28th, 2012 by USDA for inhumane treatment of animals. If he cannot process cattle humanely whatever would possess you to believe he could humanely process a horse? Horse slaughter is not humane and I, as well as 80% of this country, are opposed to the slaughter of horses for human consumption and using tax payer dollars to do so.
    What really scares me is the author, who is writing for a food safety journal, would encourage the slaughtering of an animal which is known to be receiving medications and other substances which are banned by the FDA, CFIA and EU from use in ANY animal intended for human consumption. Furthermore it is the FDA who has the final say on what does and doesn’t enter our food chain and they say that horses are companion animals, not livestock.
    How would the author risk our entire food export business to send one tainted product to unsuspecting consumers, risk the lives of those people. Where are his, and the others who support the slaughter of our horses, morals?

  • And another correction to this story: horse meat consumption isn’t as common as you make it in other countries.
    For instance, it’s not that accepted in all of Italy. In fact, horse meat consumption is specific only to certain regions.
    Horse meat consumption is not popular in China. If there’s more eaten in China, that’s just because there’s more people to eat it.
    Also, horse meat consumption is not all that common in South America, either. In fact, it’s not particularly common anywhere except in countries with large nomadic tribes.
    Oh, and Belgium. It’s popular in Belgium. But then the country won’t produce its own meat–the industry is too dirty for the country. They sucker countries like the US into producing it.

  • And another correction to this story: horse meat consumption isn’t as common as you make it in other countries.
    For instance, it’s not that accepted in all of Italy. In fact, horse meat consumption is specific only to certain regions.
    Horse meat consumption is not popular in China. If there’s more eaten in China, that’s just because there’s more people to eat it.
    Also, horse meat consumption is not all that common in South America, either. In fact, it’s not particularly common anywhere except in countries with large nomadic tribes.
    Oh, and Belgium. It’s popular in Belgium. And horse slaughterhouses in the past here in the States have had a Belgium owner. An owner who doesn’t follow environmental regulation, demands government incentives, and pays little in the way of tax.

  • Wynann Brownell

    I AM TOTALLY AGAINST IT! I agree with LynnIL. This so totally wrong and MUST NOT HAPPEN IN HERE IN AMERICA!!


    Now we will have horse meat added to our beef!
    Since the pink slime is taboo.

  • JoClaire, interesting about the plant being shut down.
    I wish I could feel more sanguine that this means the USDA won’t allow horse slaughtering at this plant, but the USDA isn’t particularly consistent.
    Do you have a link to more information on this?

  • Found it:
    In all fairness, the suspension was held in abeyance because of a supposed plan for correction. However, given the timeline of the requirements and de Los Santos closing down his beef operation, we have to assume that he could not meet whatever the new requirements were.
    Blunty, if he couldn’t manage a beef operation, with equipment designed specifically for beef, how he is going to use the same place for horses–a completely different animal?
    And where is the environmental impact statement? There are completely different environmental issues related to a horse slaughterhouse, as compared to one for beef.

  • Nancy Mcmillan

    Mr Flynn-
    As a member of the commercial food service community, I am horrified and appalled that you would consider promoting an animal that is not raised as a food animal to become food. No doubt you are familiar with HACCAP. Safe food begins at the source. Horses as they are currently raised are an unsafe source. As an operator, it does not matter what I do to it or how long I cook it, it will not remove chemical contamination from the meat. There is no removing carcinogens. Couple that with the fact that there have been several major trichinosis outbreaks in Europe from horsemeat. Bottom line, it is a tainted meat. There are no rules or tests in place, because Americans do not eat horsemeat. Your suggestion that horsemeat is a great food is a “FAIL”. Horses in the US are not raised to be food. I can walk out to my barn and virtually every vial, bottle, tub, tube, spray etc is labeled “not for use on horses intended for human consumption”. Some even include warnings not to handle if pregnant or may become pregnant. Additionally, in most of our first aid kits we also have a drug commonly known as “bute”. Per the FDA, one dose of bute renders an animal “excluded” from the food chain. The problem with using horses as food, is that they come from an unsafe source. There is no tracking of what meds a horse is given over its lifetime. There is no accountability. As a food safety leader, that should scare the hell out of you. The European Union realized this and has created a “passport” that qualifies a horse as either an athlete or “food”. That horse cannot be an athlete one day, and dinner the next. The US model provides no such safeguards. A person can currently pick up a horse off the track, craigs list, someones yard and sell it to slaughter. Less than 7 days later its in the human food chain. Do we really hate people in other countries so much that we are trying to dump our contaminated meat on them? In addition, in the US it is only a small percentage of meat that actually gets sampled by the USDA. We have enough issues with foods that are actually raised to be dinner without adding more problems. Look at all the recalls over the past few months. Most come thru after the product has already reached the consumer. Consider the cantaloupes from this summer. 70 families lost loved ones. We should be working on ways to make our food chain safer, not trying pawn off an irresponsible owners animal on the public as “gourmet”. Please research this topic beyond the horse slaughter industry press releases.

  • Sue

    Nancy: Your statement is right on! I don’t see how the USDA or the FDA could inspect horsemeat and not label it unfit for human consumption. It is tainted, toxic and should not be allowed in the food chain. I feel sorry for all the people over seas that think it’s fine to eat. I have used “bute” on all my horses and every single one of them was euthanized in my pasture and buried on my land. They went quick and they were not terrified.

    • so sorry for that Nancy. Horses were my life @ Belmont & other racetracks. Moved to Roswell because it is so beautiful here. NOW? The nightmare is about to happen

  • Okiro53

    This is shameful, to have sick horses badly treated and killed inhumanly. The Food & Drug Administration must make sure how the horses are killed and are selling polluted meat…. Why eat horses, they helped the Americans to get that far and built, carry. They should not be killed. This company must be closed! Another matter the consumer has the right to know where and how the meat is sold…. Thanks

  • Okiro53

    This is shameful to forget that horses have helped Americans get that far. On top of that now horses are being abused by owners who have them for monetary earnings, and then when they become non useful they end up in the hands of people who will treat them so bad that in the end when they are to reach the end of their lives before they are killed they most probably will be sick. And the company will probably will be selling bad meat, there are enough pictures seen on T.V. and newspapers. Will you be eating sick meat? By seeing how animals are treated so badly and end up in the table, I am eating less meat. I think the hunger for money is sad and have no respect for what we call animals… but then who is the real animal here??? I wish someone will stop the opening of this slaughter houses to kill horses, it is inhumane… to end your life in that way…. Thanks.

  • dogzen

    I do not agree that the value of horses dropped because of the horse slaughter ban. The prices dropped because of the economy which caused many people to have to sell. There were never dog slaughter plants and the volume of abandoned and starved dogs has climbed over the same time period. Horse slaughter is a nasty business run by very evil and nasty people. They don’t care about horses, only the dollar they can make. Our local kill buyer sent his own deceased brother’s in foal registered quarter horses to slaughter. He has starving and sick horses on his lot, but many beautiful sound healthy horses that people could not afford to keep. He has refused to sell horses to save them from slaughter unless women will sleep with him. These are the kind of people involved in this sick business.

  • THIS HAS TO STOP I’m SORRY  Mr Santos can not run a successful business without killing horses this is a true embarrassment horse slaughter doesn’t belong in America . This is got to stop  NOW.

  • Here is the owner of Valley View kiling a horse just to make some point……..


  • Stop this company from operating in NM! They should not be allowed to operate in this country. Contact the USDA and your local congress persons. New Mexico is better than this! Send a copy of the video of the employee murdering a horse to Gary King and the governor and tell de Los santos, owner to go make a living somewhere else.

  • I am hearing more and more reports that the USDA Inspectors needed to allow Santos to slaughter horses at his plant in Roswell will not be approved. Right now he is sitting with an entire, high capacity barn filled with horses. I am wondering if he has already slaughtered or has shipped them out of the country. Saw pictures posted by Tim Sappington….beautiful horses. Santos is very closed minded and only out for the profit that can be made. You reap what you sow. In the United States horses are not raised to be used as a food source…..other countries may…..but that is their conscience.

  • Walter Gastiger

    I think a Horse,should not be made for Meat,Check out the Horrors oif a Horse Slaughtering on the You-Tube those poor Horses have to be putten down,when they entered a chute,the ugly Bastard uses a NailGun and aims for the Horses skull and hits it and the poor Filly is stunned and sometime the poor thing has maybe two or three nails into its skull and then it is hoasted into the air for slaugter and ready for the head to be cut and it is so sad to see this beautiful creature and very Healthy and those Evil Bastards probally work for Satan and has no regrents for the Gods Creatures.I hope the people,who eat them Choke to death eatin them,If the Horse should be putt away,do it the Humane way,Nevered ever to be eaten.

  • Terra Pennington

    Sell where the EU will not touch the toxic horse meat from any USA base horse slaughter house. So I want to know where they plan to sell this so call horse meat. The American people maybe… Mix it into our beef only to pocket that much more money by selling horse meat mixed into our beef products. It will not be long before Mexico and Canada close the door to all US breed horses in their slaughter houses due to toxic testing done at their plants. So where is this meat going to end up?