Lawyer: Slaughterhouse lawsuit is grandstanding

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico attorney general lacks jurisdiction and is trying to bolster his bid for governor with a lawsuit to block the opening of a horse slaughterhouse in Roswell, a lawyer argued in a court filing Tuesday.

Valley Meat Co. attorney Blair Dunn filed the 173-page motion after state District Judge Matthew Wilson in Santa Fe issued a temporary restraining order preventing the company from opening before he can hold a hearing Friday in the lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Gary King.

"This lawsuit is clearly a publicity stunt and political grandstanding to secure the support (of) special interest groups in the AG's run for governor," Dunn said in the court filing.

Dunn claimed King lacks jurisdiction over the federally regulated plant and has misrepresented facts in the case.

The temporary order issued Monday is just the latest in a series of stops and starts for Valley and a Missouri company that have been preparing to open after a federal judge threw out a lawsuit by animal protection groups and a federal appellate court lifted a stay on operations pending the group's appeal.

King stepped in two weeks ago with a lawsuit saying Valley Meat's operations would violate state laws related to food safety, water quality and unfair business practices. Although the meat would not be sold domestically, it would be processed and shipped to other countries for human consumption and use as animal and zoo food.

Meantime, Valley owner Rick De Los Santo said he has been working with state environment department officials to get the proper permits for removing wastewater in hopes of opening in the next week or two.

He said he is planning to initially only slaughter horses under contract with a larger Canadian slaughterhouse, which he said will supply drug-free horses from feedlots.

"A big deal with Gary King is that we are going to be putting drugged meat into the food chain," De Los Santos said. ".... The (company) actually buys the horses and puts them in the feedlot and has them graze there for 180 days to ensure there is no drug residue."

In Missouri, Rains Natural Meats had horses on site and was ready to open but ran into its own roadblocks with state environmental permits, Dunn said.

Valley, Rains and an Iowa company last year won federal permits to become the first horse slaughterhouses to operate since Congress effectively banned the practice by cutting funding for inspections at plants in 2006. The last of the domestic plants closed in 2007. Congress in 2011 reinstated the funding.

The Iowa company switched to cattle after being blocked from opening in August by the filing of the lawsuit by The Humane Society of the United States and other groups.

De Los Santos has led the effort to force the Department of Agriculture to permit the plants, sparking an emotional, national debate on whether horses are livestock or companion animals.

Animal protection groups have thrown their support behind King.

Proponents argue it is better to slaughter unwanted horses domestically than have them shipped thousands of miles to Canada or less humane facilities in Mexico.

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