ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Responsible Transportation, which owns a slaughterhouse in Sigourney, Iowa, is dropping plans to slaughter horses in the wake of a federal judge's ruling that temporarily banned the practice as animal welfare groups challenge it in court, a company executive said Aug. 13, The Associated Press reports.

The company can't afford to wait for more deliberations in court and will instead turn its focus to cattle processing, the company's president, Keaton Walker, told AP.

"We just can't sit with our heads down," Walker said. "We have to get back to work. Our main focus now is going to be beef."

Earlier this month, a federal judge issued a restraining order in a lawsuit brought by The Humane Society of the United States and other groups against the US Department of Agriculture. The case has ignited an emotional national debate about how best to deal with the tens of thousands of wild, unwanted and abandoned horses throughout the US.

Responsible Transportation was one of two companies that had secured federal permits for horse slaughter. Valley Meat Co. of Roswell, NM, has been at the fore of the fight, pushing for more than a year for permission to convert its cattle plant into a horse slaughterhouse.

In June, USDA gave the company approval to begin slaughtering horses. Agency officials said they were legally obligated to issue the permits, even though President Barack Obama's administration opposes horse slaughter and is seeking to reinstate a congressional ban that was lifted in 2011.

Walker's company had been given federal approval to slaughter horses at the company's Iowa plant starting Aug. 1. His Iowa plant will now seek federal approval to become a beef-only operation, Walker said.