ROSWELL, NM – The owner of Valley Meat Co. said he has turned to horse slaughter to revive his struggling business.

In interviews with the Roswell Daily Record and Albuquerque Journal, Rick De Los Santos defended his plan to become the first processors since 2007 to slaughter horses. The move has provoked protests from animal activists, who have said they will block any petition to slaughter horses.

News reports said Valley Meat Co. has been in negotiations with the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service regarding processing horse meat. Congress recently lifted a five-year-old ban on funding horse meat inspections, paving the way for horses to be slaughtered and processed again in the US.

Speaking to local media, De Los Santos said his operation would operate with USDA oversight and thus would be required to meet higher standards. He argued that exporting carcasses might be preferable to sending live horses to Mexico. Horses are held at the border, and slaughter methods in Mexico may be less humane than in the US, he said.

The company has a 7,290-sq.-ft. plant on a 10-acre site. The company once employed 40 to 45 people, but the rising cost of cattle forced the company to close after 20 years of cattle slaughter. De Los Santos said he laid off his last 10 employees three weeks ago.