ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's top prosecutor filed a lawsuit Thursday in state district court in an attempt to block a planned horse slaughter plant from opening in less than two weeks.
The move by Attorney General Gary King comes after a federal appeals court rolled back a court order that had kept Valley Meat Co. from starting operations earlier this fall. Owner Rick De Los Santos has been making plans to open Jan. 1, and his attorney said Thursday that those plans haven't changed.
Attorney Blair Dunn called King's lawsuit frivolous and a waste of taxpayer money. Under state law, if a judge issues a restraining order or preliminary injunction, a security bond would have to be posted by the state while the legal challenge winds its way through the court. Dunn said that could cost New Mexico as much as $435,000 a month.
"As a New Mexican, as a taxpayer, I'm beyond offended and I think it's almost criminal what they're doing. They're wasting everybody's money," Dunn said.
King defended the lawsuit, saying Valley Meat stands to violate state laws related to food safety, water quality and unfair business practices.
"I believe that the operation of this plant in New Mexico is antithetical to the way we do business in New Mexico," King said. "We don't eat horses in New Mexico, and we think this is an inappropriate use of this plant."
Valley Meat and proposed plants in Missouri and Iowa have been the targets of animal protection groups trying to block the slaughtering of horses.
Valley Meat began leading the effort to resume domestic horse slaughter two years ago after Congress lifted its ban on the practice. In August, as plants in the three states were preparing to open, The Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection groups sued to contest the Department of Agriculture's permitting process.
A federal judge in Albuquerque issued a temporary restraining order, prompting the Iowa company to convert its operations to beef. U.S. District Judge Christine Armijo threw out the lawsuit in November, allowing all three companies to proceed.
The animal protection groups appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued an emergency motion that again blocked the plants from opening. The appellate court lifted that order last week, saying the groups "failed to meet their burden for an injunction pending appeal."
Animal Protection of New Mexico and Front Range Equine Rescue were among the groups throwing their support behind King's lawsuit on Thursday.
According to the lawsuit, Valley Meat has a history of violating state and federal environmental and safety laws while operating as a beef slaughterhouse. The state says Valley Meat's failure to monitor and test water samples as part of its past discharge permits dates back decades. The company is also accused of disposing of carcasses illegally.
Dunn challenged the state's claims and accused King, a Democrat who is running for governor, of politicizing the case.
While it could be weeks before the state district court rules on King's request, Dunn said Valley Meat will continue to prepare for operations to begin. The company says it has multiple international contracts lined up.