ROSWELL, NM – Valley Meat Co. might have been the target of arsonists. The owner of the Roswell, NM-based company has been trying to convert the former beef-processing facility to a horse-slaughtering plant.

A fire on July 27 damaged a refrigeration unit and burned the facility's exterior. Investigators have not determined the cause of the fire, but Chaves County officials called the blaze "very suspicious." Speaking to The Associated Press, owner Rick De Los Santos said someone jumped a fence on the property and poured an accelerant over the compressors to his refrigeration unit. De Los Santos said he planned to open the facility for horse slaughter on Aug. 5.

Efforts to block horse slaughter in the United States have been ongoing since Congress lifted a ban on funding horse meat inspections. But the US Department of Agriculture issued grants of inspection to Valley Meat and Sigourney, Iowa-based Responsible Transportation LLC. The agency is expected to grant similar approval to a facility in Missouri.

In response, animal-rights groups sued USDA to prevent the agency from conducting horse meat inspections. The Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue, Marin Humane Society, Horses for Life Foundation, Return to Freedom and five private individuals filed the lawsuit under the National Environmental Protection Act.