WASHINGTON – Animal welfare groups said they will block a petition from a New Mexico slaughterhouse to become the first business to offer horses for slaughter since a federal ban against the practice ended in 2011.

A report in the Washington Times said the unnamed company 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.

A federal report from the US Government Accountability Office released in June 2011 found local animal welfare organizations reported an increase in investigations for horse neglect and abandonment since 2007. Data showed that investigations for horse neglect and abuse in Colorado increased more than 60 percent – from 975 in 2005 to almost 1,600 in 2009.

In 2010, about 138,000 horses were transported from the US to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, nearly the same number that were killed in the US before the ban took effect in 2007, the study said. An estimated 9 million horses exist in the US today.

Pro-slaughter activists have argued that the ban resulted in an upswing in neglect and abandonment of horses. They estimate a slaughterhouse could open within 30 to 90 days with state approval and eventually as many as 200,000 horses per year could be slaughtered for human consumption. Most of the horse meat would be shipped to Europe and Asia, where it's treated as a delicacy.

Animal-welfare activists have threatened a massive public outcry in any town where a slaughterhouse may open in the future.