ROSWELL, NM – The US Department of Agriculture is likely to approve horse slaughter operations at Valley Meat Company, according to a New York Times report. The company could be processing horses within two months.

The owner of Valley Meat Co., a former beef processor, sued USDA alleging inaction on the company’s application to resume domestic horse slaughter. Valley Meat had been in negotiations with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to resume inspections which are required to open the facility for horse slaughter. Officials at the Justice Department asked the company for an additional 60 days to respond to the suit because the USDA intends to grant a permit within that timeframe, according to the Times report.

Lawyers for the company say obstacles to the plant's opening remain. Animal rights advocates have filed petitions hoping to block Valley Meat from processing horses. The Humane Society of the United States has a petition on its web site encouraging visitors to call the Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to oppose horse slaughter in the US. Visitors can also send a follow-up e-mail message with the subject line "Please do not resume the slaughter of our American horses".

“Slaughtering horses for human consumption is archaic, inhumane, and unsafe, given the medicine chest of drugs often administered to horses and prohibited for human consumption,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS in a statement on the group's web site. “It is astonishing that we may see the resumption of horse slaughter on U.S. soil while Europe is still reeling from a horse meat scandal. Have we not learned anything about the industry’s deception in Europe and the turmoil it has caused?”

In response to these efforts, Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) and several other groups also filed a motion to intervene in the Valley Meat lawsuit.

“R-CALF USA has members who have ceased marketing their unusable horses to Mexican horse slaughter buyers due to concerns that their horses would be subjected to undue stress during transit to foreign horse slaughter plants and then suffer inhumane slaughtering techniques once they arrive at foreign slaughtering plants,” said Bill Bullard, R-CALF CEO.

Congress lifted a ban on funding horse meat inspections. Since then, interest in horse slaughter and processing horse meat began to increase. Montana, Nebraska and North Dakota were among a few states where legislatures were considering bills that would allow horse slaughter. Most recently, the Senate and House chambers of Oklahoma's legislature approved two bills that would end the state's horse-slaughter ban while prohibiting the sale of horse meat for human consumption in the state.