Horse Slaughter: Bloody Debate Rages In New Mexico

Roswell, NM's Valley Meat Co. once concentrated its efforts on the slaughter of cattle, but recently was redesigned for the slaughter of a far more controversial animal, the domestic horse. On Valley Meat Co.'s "kill floor" domestic horses are led in one at a time, stabilized in a chute made from metal, shot in the head and later processed for meat that will be shipped overseas.

There's something far greater going on at Valley Meat Co. than the mere slaughter of domestic horses, though.

"It's also ground zero for an emotional, national debate over a return to domestic horse slaughter that has divided horse rescue and animal humane groups, ranchers, politicians and Indian tribes," Associated Press says in a report published on Tuesday, April 23.

The crux of the domestic horse slaughter debate rests on two issues. The first is whether or not horses should be considered "livestock" or "pets." The other issue at play in the debate over the animals' slaughter is whether these animals should be slaughtered here or shipped by the thousands — in far less humane conditions than at locations like Valley Meat Co. — to be slaughtered in other countries such as Mexico and Canada.

"They are being slaughtered anyway," said Rick De Los Santos, who has worked the slaughterhouse with his wife for more than 20 years. "We thought, well, we will slaughter them here and provide jobs for the economy."

De Los Santos points to such reasons as dwindling cattle supply and an on-going drought, for why the Valley Meat Co. slaughterhouse has been transitioned from a place that slaughters "cows that were too old or sick to travel with larger herds to the bigger slaughterhouses for production" to that for the thousands of domestic horses who "travel through the state every month on their way to what are oftentimes less humane and less regulated plants south of the border."

Valley Meat Co. has been sitting idle for nearly a year now, due to death threats, vandalism and other humane activist group activities that have created a political drama for De Los Santos and his wife and kept them from continuing their work.

"People are saying, 'We will slit your throat in your sleep. We hope you die. We hope your kids die,' " De Los Santos said. "Sometimes it's scary. ... And it's all for a horse."

Some of the activists were apparently instigated in part by a video of a Valley Meat Co. worker (who no longer works at the slaughterhouse) swearing at aggressive activists and shooting his own horse in order to eat it.

The activists themselves don't seem to be much better in their reactions.

"I hope you burn in hell," said a woman who continues to leave voicemails for De Los Santos. "You better pack your [expletive] bags [expletive] and get out of there because that place is finished."

De Los Santos and his wife have hired security and have given their phone records to federal authorities. Valley Meat Co. is in the meantime going to be investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday concerning its capacity to become the first domestic horse slaughterhouse in the U.S. in more than six years.

Should Valley Meat Co., despite threats and vandalism, move forward in its slaughtering of domestic horses, the resulting processed meat would be shipped for human consumption to eastern Europe and Asia. De Los Santos says his 7,200-sq.-ft slaughterhouse can process 50 to 100 horses a day.

"It's complicated, this industry of feeding the world," Sarah De Los Santos said.

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