Court temporarily halts horse slaughterhouses

A federal court in New Mexico has temporarily halted the opening of the first facilities to slaughter horses in the U.S. since 2007.

The court’s decision on Friday will, for the time being, prevent the Department of Agriculture (USDA) from allowing inspections of planned horse slaughterhouses in Iowa and New Mexico, effectively barring the facilities from killing the animals.

The slaughterhouses had planned to get up and running as early as this week.

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The court’s ruling came in response to a suit filed by the Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue and other animal rights groups to prevent the USDA from allowing horse slaughter. The groups charged that the administration did not properly account for environmental hazards in its decision to approve the facilities.

The injunction lasts for 30 days, at which point the court will decide whether to extend the order.

“We’ve won a temporary but life-saving reprieve for horses, and it’s good news indeed that the kill boxes in New Mexico and Iowa will be empty of horses in the weeks ahead,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society, in a statement after the decision. “We’ll continue to make arguments when our case resumes in a month that these plants cannot legally operate because of inadequate environmental review.”

Since 2007, Congress had specifically included language in annual appropriations bills that barred the USDA from approving inspection applications from horse slaughterhouses, preventing the killing of horses for human consumption.

For the last two years, however, lawmakers have been unable to pass legislation, including the language forbidding the practice.

As a result, the USDA announced that it would approve a horse slaughterhouse for the first time in June. 

Legislators on both sides of the aisle have opposed the slaughterhouses.

Efforts to permanently ban the production of horse meat in the U.S. have so far been unsuccessful.