Following USDA's announcement late last week to issue an inspection permit to a New Mexico equine slaughter plant, animal rights organizations have filed suit against the agency and asked for an immediate injunction.
The organizations are suing under the National Environmental Protection Act, alleging the agency failed to conduct an environmental review before authorizing horse slaughterhouses to operate.
Aside from the New Mexico plant, FSIS said it expects requests for inspection from two more plants in Iowa and Missouri in the future.
Congress previously blocked equine slaughter by removing funding for meat inspections. Without inspections, horse meat could not be marketed or sold legally.
That funding repeal provision was not included in the FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Act, therefore making horse meat again eligible for inspection, pending FSIS approval. However, it is included in House and Senate committee-passed FY 2014 appropriations.
HSUS said slaughter plants pollute water and "permeate the air with a foul stench."
"USDA's decision to visit these horrors on the citizens of New Mexico, Missouri, and Iowa – without even conducting an environmental review first – is irresponsible, and a clear violation of federal law," said Jonathan Lovvorn, HSUS chief counsel for animal protection litigation.
Proponents of horse slaughter argue it will alleviate the growing number of abused or neglected horses.
At least six applications for horse slaughter inspections have been filed with the USDA, HSUS said.
The Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue, Marin Humane Society, Horses for Life Foundation, Return to Freedom and five private individuals filed the suit. The plaintiffs are represented in the case by Schiff Hardin, LLP and attorneys within The HSUS' Animal Protection Litigation section.