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Monday July 29, 2013
horseCall to Action: Opportunity to Protect Meat Industry from HSUS

By Congressman Charlie Stenholm




As you know, the issue of horse slaughter has rallied the animal rights crowd together for the last several years. HSUS and its allies have gained substantial traction on the matter this year. First, the Obama Administration submitted a budget to Congress with a prohibition on funding for FSIS inspectors at horse slaughter facilities. Next, the current House and Senate Appropriations Committee versions of the FY 2014 Agriculture Appropriations bill reinstates the funding ban for FSIS inspection of horse slaughter. However, with the state of affairs in the 113th Congress, it is unlikely that the FY 2014 appropriations bill will be enacted as law by the September 30th deadline. Thus, we will likely operate on a Continuing Resolution without a ban on domestic horse slaughter inspection.


With their chances for a legislative victory slipping as the deadline approaches, HSUS has turned to the federal courts to block horse slaughter. On June 28th, FSIS issued a grant of inspection to Valley Meat Co., a Roswell, NM-based equine packing plant. FSIS also issued a grant of inspection to Responsible Transportation, LLC, a Sigourney, IA-based horse slaughter plant. Within five days, HSUS had filed suit in a San Francisco federal court to block FSIS from proceeding with its plans to allow horse slaughter to re-commence in the United States. The case, Front Range Equine Rescue v. Vilsack (No. 1:13-cv-00639-MCA-RHS), has since been transferred to the federal court in Albuquerque, NM.


HSUS argues that the decision to re-commence horse slaughter in the United States constitutes a major federal action and, as such, FSIS was required to conduct an environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Without question, this is a desperate attempt to delay USDA from providing inspectors to the point that the financially-strained horse slaughter plants are forced to shutter. However, HSUS has gotten traction on this argument in the past (see HSUS v. Johanns, 2007 WL 1120404 (D.D.C.)). If HSUS succeeds on this matter, then FSIS will be forced to conduct an environmental assessment (EA) and possibly put together an environmental impact statement (EIS) prior to inspecting horses for slaughter. After FSIS has delivered its EA or EIS, HSUS will have an opportunity to litigate the validity of those documents too. This can draw out the NEPA process to 2 to 5 years.


I am writing you because, no matter what stance your organization takes on the horse slaughter matter, the Front Range Equine Rescue case is important to your constituents. If HSUS is able to succeed on the NEPA argument, what is stopping them from using this same argument to target the next opening or expansion of a beef, swine, or poultry processing facility? The future growth of the animal agriculture industry could be imperiled by an unfavorable outcome in this case.


HSUS is not going to win this case without a fight. By law, DOJ is obligated to defend FSIS in this matter. Furthermore, the proposed horse slaughter plants and the Yakama Nation have intervened in this matter to ensure that they have a say in this litigation.


However, USDA has issued press releases acknowledging that it would prefer to not commence horse slaughter. Secretary Vilsack has opined that he desires an alternative, such as adopting out the annual 150,000-plus supply of unwanted horses to veterans suffering from PTSD. Based on these statements, I believe USDA would hardly be disappointed if a federal court tied its hands on the horse slaughter matter. And it's hardly out of the question that a "sweetheart settlement" is in the works in light of what we saw between the EPA and environmental groups in the 2008 CAFO Rule and the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.


Two essential things are missing from this fight: the broader animal ag industry and financial resources. Animal agriculture stands to lose much by remaining on the sidelines in this case. An unfavorable decision on the NEPA matter could mean that HSUS and its allies could burden the next slaughter plant with NEPA-borne bureaucratic red tape that could hinder the industry's ability to promptly respond to changes in the marketplace.


The current intervenors in this matter are financially strapped and without the option of sending thousands of excess horses to USDA-inspected plants, they neither have the cash flow nor the reserves necessary to carry on an extended battle with HSUS and its barrels of money. These intervenors could certainly use the credibility and resources of your organization on their side.


The next event in the Front Range Equine Rescue case is a preliminary injunction hearing on Friday, August 2nd in New Mexico. After this hearing, the judge will decide whether to enjoin FSIS from inspecting horse slaughter while the NEPA case is pending. Regardless of the outcome on Friday, this case is expected to continue well into next year.


Although the deadline to intervene for participation in this Friday's preliminary injunction has passed, there is still an opportunity for your organization to participate as an intervener in the case in chief. If you are interested in ensuring that your organization can have a say in this matter and join in the fight against HSUS, please contact me. I would be happy to put you in touch with the folks in our litigation team here at OFW Law.


Charlie Stenholm



The United Horsemen is in it for the long haul. We thank you for supporting us, and we ask for your continued support as we continue to fight for the welfare of horses and the horse industry. We are putting together a strategic nationwide Billboard campaign and we will need the financial support of all of our friends.


Stay strong and stay the course, with United Horsemen.   




Yours truly,

Dave Duquette


United Horsemen

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