WASHINGTON – The US Department of Agriculture issued a grant of inspection to Sigourney, Iowa-based Responsible Transportation LLC, paving the way for the company to begin horse slaughter operations.

USDA already approved inspection for Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, NM, and is expected to grant similar approval to a facility in Missouri.

Meanwhile, several animal-rights groups sued the USDA to prevent the agency from inspecting horse meat produced at those facilities. 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.

“We join 80 percent of Americans in their opposition to horse slaughter,” said Neda DeMayo, president of Return To Freedom. “America is the original home of the horse and has never been a horse-eating culture.”

Responsible Transportation is privately owned, and provides agriculture services for the transportation, processing and manufacturing industries, according to its website. In its description of the company, the website states, "Our mission is to improve the quality of life of the unwanted horse population through the development and application of innovative livestock-handling practices, utilization of professionally supervised and government regulated euthanasia processes, and removal of the agonizing voyages to processing facilities outside the United States."

Efforts to block horse slaughter in the United States have been ongoing since Congress lifted a ban on funding horse meat inspections. Congressional members introduced legislation that would have banned horse meat for human consumption in the US and prohibited horse meat exports. President Obama's proposed FY 2014 budget contained a proposal to block federal spending on horse -slaughter inspections. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez also raised objections to commercial horse slaughter operations in the state.