An official opinion from New Mexico Attorney General Gary K. King either marks the end of horse slaughter in The Land of Enchantment or a meaningless intervention into federal meat regulation. In a June 10 AG’s opinion, the Democrat King said veterinary drugs are too commonly administered to horses not to view their meat as adulterated under state law, a ruling that would make horse meat unfit for human consumption.
Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, NM has been close to becoming the first USDA inspected horse slaughter facility in the U.S. since 2007. Valley Meat’s attorney, A. Blair Dunn, told the media the state AG’s opinion was meaningless.
Dunn said the horse slaughter facility will have a USDA-approved drug residue testing program in place just like those used for other animals.
King’s opinion came in response to a request from State Sen. Richard Martinez (D- Española).
“Based on our examination of the relevant constitutional, statutory and case law authorities, and the information available to us at this time, we conclude horse meat from U.S. horses would fit the legal definition of an adulterated food product under the NM Food Act if the meat came from horses that had been treated with chemical substances that the federal Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has deemed unfit for human consumption,” King wrote. “We also conclude that if horse meat were an adulterated food product, the NM Food Act would prohibit its manufacture, sale or delivery.”
A ban on horse slaughter in the U.S. was imposed from 2007 through 2011, but then lifted after an Inspector General’s report suggested the ban was causing more inhumane treatment of horses, including widespread instances of starvation and abandonment.
Valley Meat, a former bovine slaughter operation, has been in the lead in its request for USDA inspection services, among a handful of other applicants mostly from small towns in rural states.
Meanwhile, national animal welfare groups are pressuring Congress to re-impose the ban and are conducting public opinion surveys in states with applications to show the generally large opposition to horse slaughter.
Owners who have no intention of ever sending their horse to slaughter often treat horses with many drugs for pain and other aliments. If those horses fall into the hands of someone who does send them to slaughter, there is a potential problem with drug residues getting into the meat.
Ironically, the Interior Department’s huge population of wild horses, which are never suppose to be slaughtered, are the most drug-free horses.
USDA’s National Residue Program exists to test newly slaughtered meat for illegal drug residue, pesticide, hormones, and other contaminants. There probably would be little difference in the way equine testing would work from the bovine testing, for example.
There is no safe level for some animal drugs. Phenylbutazone or “bute,” often used to control pain in horses, has no safe level for any horse used for slaughter. The European Union bans it from horses sold in the EU for human consumption.
One point of controversy is that the National Residue Program conducts post-mortem testing, meaning there is not a pre-slaughter way of cutting drug residue in meat.