SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico judge will decide on Friday whether a Roswell company can move ahead with plans for slaughtering horses.
State District Judge Matthew Wilson made the announcement after a daylong hearing Monday on a request from Attorney General Gary King's office for a preliminary injunction against Valley Meat Co. The judge plans to issue a written decision at the end of the week.
King has filed a lawsuit alleging the company's operations would violate state environmental and food safety laws.
The plant wouldn't be able to immediately start slaughtering horses, even if the judge lifts a temporary order that blocks it from operating.
A permit from state regulators is needed to discharge blood and other slaughtering wastes into tanks and lagoons on the company's property. A permit decision is pending before the secretary of the state Environment Department.
Another option is for the agency to decide that no permit is necessary if the company develops another way to handle the wastes. Valley's attorney, Blair Dunn, said the company intends to submit a proposal for pumping and hauling waste to a licensed disposal site elsewhere.
The plant was blocked from opening last year after animal protection groups brought a federal lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture for issuing permits to Valley and two other companies, which would become the first domestic horse slaughtering plants in seven years. A federal judge threw out that lawsuit. King filed the state case after a federal appeals court declined to keep the plants shuttered.
King's office urged Wilson to block the company from starting the slaughter of horses until the latest lawsuit is resolved.
Assistant Attorney General Ari Biernoff said the plant's operation could contaminate groundwater and there's no guarantee the meat would be safe for human consumption. He said there would be no medical records about the horses sent to the slaughter plant and what drugs may have been administered to them. Those drugs typically would not have been approved for animals that become food for humans, he argued.
"The meat would not be safe or fit for human consumption," Biernoff told the judge.
William Olson, a hydrologist and former administrator for the state's water quality regulatory agency, testified that Valley Meat had a long history of violations of New Mexico's environmental rules, and for several years operated without a required permit for discharging wastes from its cattle slaughtering operations.
Olson, who's working as a consultant for the attorney general's office, said groundwater could be contaminated with wastes pumped into concrete septic tanks and lined lagoons. Those wastes may contain drugs that had been administered to horses.
Dunn said the judge should rule against the attorney general.
"This threat of imminent harm is just not there," said Dunn, adding that the company would comply with federal and state laws.
Dunn also contended that the federal government — not the state — has jurisdiction over the horse slaughtering operation because the meat would be shipped overseas.
Valley Meat and companies in Missouri and Iowa 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 reinstated the funding in 2011.
Valley Meat owner Rick De Los Santos has led the effort to force the Department of Agriculture to permit the horse slaughter plants, sparking an emotional, national debate on whether horses are livestock or companion animals.
Proponents contend it's better to slaughter unwanted horses domestically than ship them thousands of miles to Canada or less humane facilities in Mexico.
"This is an option that New Mexico needs. This is a lawful business," Dunn said.