With Christmas planning and shopping occupying people's attention, it should not go unnoticed that on December 13, 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled "…horse slaughter operations will resume in this country for the first time in over five years…" (Common horse sense decision.)
Front Range Equine Rescue and the Humane Society of the United States made a specious argument before the Court that if horse slaughter operations are allowed to resume, there will be potentially irreversible environmental harms from toxic horse slaughter byproducts. The Court did not take kindly to this argument.
The case is not over. The order on December 13 was responding to an emergency motion from FRER and HSUS which sought to enjoin a recent court victory to resume horse slaughter obtained by several parties in a U.S. District Court in New Mexico. The 10th Circuit had stopped the District Court's order from going into effect. The 10th Circuit has now reversed itself; however, there is still another round of briefs on the merits to be filed before this case comes to a conclusion.
Presumably, commercial operations for horse slaughter may begin this week.
Editor's note: As we prepared this blog for publishing a New Mexico district family court judge entered a new injunction halting Valley Meat from opening today.
First some facts: From 2006-2011, Congress halted funding for horse slaughter plant inspections and inspectors. The inspections are required to be conducted by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Without FSIS inspectors, horses were being slaughtered by being sent to plants in Mexico and Canada for slaughter and meat sent to Europe. In 2005, the U.S. slaughtered 94,037 horses. Exports of horses for slaughter in 2011 were 197,442 to Mexico and Canada.
FRER and HSUS sought to stop any resumption of horse slaughter in the U.S. by arguing that USDA and FSIS violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not conducting and writing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). A lawyer for these groups has been quoted as saying that the dangers from horse slaughter will cause "…devastating harm to American communities, environments and horses."
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a short 9 page opinion, dismissed Plaintiffs' counsel's arguments summarily. Plaintiffs argued they are likely to have success on appeal, because there is a threat of irreparable harm if horse slaughter is not stopped.
FRER and HSUS also argued there is an absence of harm to Valley Meat and other processors, and there is risk of harm to the public interest if slaughter is initiated. The Court disagreed.
The Court spent several pages reviewing the Federal Meat Inspection Act. The Court then looked at whether FSIS Grant of Inspection is a final agency action, and the key issue was whether FSIS had a "categorical exclusion" from having to comply with NEPA's EIS requirements. The Court stated clearly that "Plaintiffs had not established a likelihood that they will be able to show that the FSIS was in error in invoking the categorical exclusion to NEPA."
The Court ripped Plaintiffs' request to stay the District Court's order by stating "[They] have not presented any non-speculative that they (or the environment) will suffer irreparable harm if the FSIS, pursuant to the FMIA inspects [horse] slaughterhouse facilities…"
The Court went on to suggest that what HSUS and FRER had been saying in court is too "speculative" and "insufficient". In other words, the Court was suggesting to these two groups they were wasting their time and the Court's. In fact, the language is so strong the Court makes clear plaintiffs' assertions are just "too speculative" and certainly do not show a significant risk to the public which would constitute irreparable harm. This should end the case, but it does not.
On the positive side, the Court was honest in pointing out that Valley Meat and other petitioners have shown "…that they face a likelihood of cognizable harm because enjoining FSIS inspections during the pendency of this appeal would, in turn prevent them from running their lawful businesses."
A good and solid ruling, and a good end of year present for agriculture and common horse sense.