- Associated Press - Friday, February 5, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A court decision will prevent a horse slaughter operation from opening in New Mexico after the state’s lengthy legal battle.

A state district judge in Santa Fe granted an order late Thursday that finalizes a settlement reached with the attorney general’s office, animal advocates, Valley Meat Co. and other associated businesses.

Valley Meat had sought to convert its cattle processing plant in Roswell to the slaughtering of horses, but the state sued in 2013 in an effort to stop those plans, saying such an operation would violate New Mexico’s environmental and food safety laws.

The order and previous rulings from the judge effectively end any chance of a horse slaughter operation opening in New Mexico, said Bruce Wagman, an attorney for the horse advocacy group Front Range Equine Rescue.

“This is the end. It can’t happen here in New Mexico,” Wagman said Friday.

Blair Dunn, an attorney for Valley Meat, said the closure of the case means his clients will no longer be harassed by the attorney general’s office and the others who joined the fight.

During the legal wrangling, proponents had argued that domestic slaughter was the most humane way to deal with a rising number of abused and abandoned horses. Now, unwanted horses are shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter.

The last domestic horse slaughterhouses closed in 2007, a year after Congress initially withheld funding for the required federal inspections of the slaughtering process. After the money was restored in 2011, plants in New Mexico, Missouri and Iowa began trying to start horse slaughtering.

It was again derailed in 2014 when President Barack Obama signed a budget measure that withheld the funding for inspections.

The lawsuit by the state, the horse rescue group and others was meant as a possible insurance plan in the event the federal government authorized funding for inspections in the future.

The order issued Thursday by Judge Francis Mathew makes permanent an injunction granted by Judge Matthew Wilson in January 2014 to prohibit the Roswell company from moving forward with its plans.

After receiving the order, state Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement that “there is no place for horse slaughter in the state of New Mexico.”

Still pending is a federal lawsuit and a counterclaim in state district court in which Valley Meat is seeking a jury trial to decide damages for what Dunn called a malicious use of the legal process.

“These groups used the process to destroy these people’s business,” the attorney said.

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