ROSWELL, NM – Valley Meat Company is moving closer to becoming the first horse meat processor to open since the federal government banned the practice in 2007, according to The New York Times.

Ricardo De Los Santos, owner of Roswell, New Mexico-based Valley Meat Company, received a letter from the US Department of Agriculture recommending his application be processed and a grant of federal inspection be issued. However, De Los Santos must meet other requirements for inspection, and an animal rights group claims De Los Santos falsified information on his application.

Front Range Equine Rescue sent a letter to USDA notifying the agency that on two of three applications, De Los Santos falsely stated that he had no felony convictions.

"If Mr. De Los Santos had not lied about his criminal record on these applications, FSIS could have denied his application and thwarted his plans," the group said in a statement on its web site. "Federal law requires persons who want to conduct slaughter operations to be approved and inspected by FSIS. Federal law also gives FSIS discretion to deny any applicant who has been convicted of a felony.

"On Valley Meat’s December 2011 and March 2012 applications for inspection, when asked to list all of his felony convictions, State or Federal, Mr. De Los Santos falsely answered: “None.” In fact, Mr. De Los Santos has been convicted of two felonies — once for a residential burglary, and once for criminal trespass."

The Times reported that a lawyer representing De Los Santos said the group had misrepresented the criminal trespass case as a felony, and that everything regarding De Los Santos's criminal history had been vetted by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The issue of horse slaughter has gained in prominence following the Europe-wide scandal of horse meat labeled as beef. Actor Robert Redford recently wrote a letter condemning horse slaughter.

“Horses played a vital role in our history, and we could never have settled this great land without them,” Redford wrote. "I feel we have an obligation to take responsibility for the horses in our care.

“However, there is a small group of special interests within the horse industry that want to continue to indiscriminately over-breed horses and use slaughter as a way to dispose of them for a quick profit by selling them for meat not eaten in this country. In essence, they want to dump them in the food chain in order to get rid of them for profit.”

Also, President Obama's FY 2014 budget contains a proposal to block spending on horse slaughter inspections, a move that would effectively end the prospect of the practice re-starting in the US.

Since Congress lifted a ban on funding horse meat inspections, interest in horse slaughter and processing horse meat has increased. 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.