ROSWELL, NM – The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service will provide inspection services to a horse slaughter facility in Roswell, NM, paving the way for horse slaughter to resume in the United States for the first time since 2007.

Over the objections of New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and numerous animal-rights activists, FSIS approved an application submitted by Ricardo De Los Santos, owner of Valley Meat Co. LLC, to reconfigure his beef-processing facility to slaughter horses for human consumption. The company has a 7,290-sq.-ft. plant on a 10-acre site. De Los Santos plans to process horse meat for export markets.

“Despite the federal government's decision to legalize horse slaughter for human consumption, I believe creating a horse slaughtering industry in New Mexico is wrong and I am strongly opposed,” said Gov. Martinez. “Like the overwhelming majority of Americans across the country, New Mexicans oppose the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Not only is there not a domestic demand for horsemeat, the act of slaughter itself is considered inhumane by experts, given that a horse's biology makes them difficult to stun, leaving them conscious during the slaughter process.”

De Los Santos' quest to re-open his facility for horse slaughter has been a long battle. He sued the USDA in December 2012 alleging inaction on his application to slaughter horses. In March 2013, four members of Congress introduced legislation that would have banned horses for human consumption in the US and prohibited exporting horses for food. In April, President Obama's proposed FY 2014 budget contained a proposal to block federal spending on horse -slaughter inspections, which would have effectively ended the prospect of horse slaughter resuming in the US. Finally, New Mexico State Attorney General Gary King submitted a legal analysis arguing that drugs used to treat horses renders the meat unfit for human consumption or sale in New Mexico.

In a constituent update released June 28, FSIS asserted that it would ensure compliance with relevant statutes and regulations, such as HACCP, the Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. The agency also gave reassurance that US consumers “should not be concerned that horse meat will be labeled and sold as the meat of another species” because of FSIS' stringent inspections, testing and labeling requirements.

“Among other measures to protect the public health, FSIS will test equine carcasses for illegal drug residues,” the update relayed. “Because of the particular concerns about the possibility of drug residues in equine carcasses, FSIS will conduct intensified residue testing at establishments that receive a grant of inspection to slaughter equines.

“Under this framework, inspection program personnel will tag equines that appear unhealthy or have visible needle puncture marks as ‘US Suspect’ and perform inspector-generated testing,” the update added. “In addition, FSIS inspection program personnel will randomly select and sample a number of carcasses from every lot of equines that pass ante-mortem inspection. The rate at which we will randomly select carcasses for sampling will be above our normal rate until we have significant experience with equine slaughter.”