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N.M. moves to halt first U.S. horse slaughterhouse

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New Mexico's attorney general has ruled that horse meat is an adulterated product, which animal rights advocates said should halt a slaughterhouse that had applied to become the first in the U.S. to resume horse slaughter for human consumption.

Attorney General Gary King's decision puts an end to a bid by Valley Meat Company in Roswell, N.M., to become the first horse meat slaughterhouse to operate since 2007, when Congress shut down the practice by banning inspections. Without inspections, the meat couldn't be processed.

"Our legal analysis concludes that state law does not allow for production of meat that is chemically tainted under federal regulations," Mr. King said. "New Mexico law is very clear that it would be prohibited and illegal."

State Sen. Richard C. Martinez had requested the review, which concluded that horse meat fits the legal definition of an "adulterated food product" if the meat came from horses that had been treated with drugs — which animal rights activists said is true for horses raised in the U.S.

The issue of horse meat has been contentious for most of the past decade. Under pressure, Congress cut money for inspections, which halted slaughter in 2007.

But a Government Accountability Office study two years ago said the new policy was a failure, leading to a glut of old horses in the U.S. Some of them ended up being shipped across the U.S. border where they were slaughtered for meat — and suffered during the long trips, the GAO said.

With that in mind, Congress lifted the inspection ban in 2011, and several companies have eyed a return to slaughter.

Valley Meat Co. had gone the furthest, applying with the Agriculture Department for an inspection permit. In April, an official at the department said he was recommending approval of the application to his superiors, according to a report in The New York Times.

Valley Meat's owners have said the horses they thought they would see were already being shipped south to Mexico, where they were going to be slaughtered.

Horse meat is not generally consumed by Americans, but is sold in other countries.

Nobody answered the phone at Valley Meat on Monday, and the voice mail system was full.

Animal rights activists oppose horse slaughter on many grounds, but found the most practical success with their argument that horses in the U.S. are treated with drugs that could harm humans.

The activists cheered Monday's ruling.

"Slaughtering horses for human consumption is barbaric, inhumane and unsafe for consumers, and Attorney General King is right to deem the practice illegal under state law," said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president at the Humane Society of the U.S. "Killing horses for their meat in New Mexico — or anywhere else in the U.S. — is clearly a misguided enterprise."

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