Horse Slaughter Wins By a Nose

Defending Agriculture

Judge rules against HSUS in horse slaughter case

Published on: November 4, 2013

Chief United States District Judge Christina Armijo in New Mexico booted the Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection groups out of court Friday afternoon.

HSUS has been attempting to convince Congress and the courts not to allow the resumption of slaughter of horses for human consumption. HSUS lost big time.

The battle is not over because Friday evening, I received a notice of appeal by HSUS within four hours of the court's decision. (I represent the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation in this case).

The court said, "Based upon the review of the administrative record and in consideration of the applicable law, the court concludes that the FSIS Directive 6130.1 and drug or residue program did not require the agency to prepare an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement), or EA (Environmental Assessment) or affirmatively invoke a categorical exclusion under NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act)."

The court went on to say that HSUS's request for a permanent injunction not allowing inspectors on the slaughter line is denied. The court dismissed the HSUS complaint and ordered that the complaint be dismissed with prejudice.

HSUS had challenged USDA and its Food Safety Inspection Service grants of inspection to have federal meat inspector services at commercial horse slaughter operations in New Mexico and Missouri. USDA has received six applications to place horse slaughtering inspectors in five states.

In this case, FSIS issued a directive 6130.1 on June 28, 2013. This directive provided instructions to the line inspectors on how to perform pre and post inspection of horses and later the carcass.

This directive became the subject of a lawsuit involving the NEPA statute which says that a federal agency must prepare an environmental impact statement if the activity involved significantly impacts the environment. NEPA also allows a federal agency to have a categorical exclusion which concludes that none of the agency's actions affect the quality of the environment.

NEPA law also says that CEs can be limited if there are "extraordinary circumstances" that might cause an excluded action to have a significant environmental effect.

The judge in a 33 page opinion eviscerates HSUS's arguments that an EIS is required before engaging in horse slaughter in this country. The court also said there is no obligation to expressly invoke a categorical exclusion for the [FSIS] Directive in the present case. In essence, the Court said that HSUS was dead wrong regarding its legal theory.

The Court seemed to suggest HSUS did not do its legal work.  It said, "NEPA applies only to discretionary agency actions, not to ministerial or mandatory actions." The Court explained to HSUS that the issue of a grant of inspection to a slaughter facility is mandatory if the facility meets certain criteria. It was pointed out to HSUS that "several [district and circuit courts] have held that NEWPA compliance is unnecessary where the agency action at issue involves little or no discretion on the part of the agency."

HSUS and its lawyers know that NEPA applies only to discretionary agency actions and not to ministerial or mandatory actions such as those administered by FSIS. Two of the slaughter facilities were issued FSIS decisions to begin operation on June 28, 2013, and July 1, 2013, respectively.

HSUS used the courts and environmental statutes to keep these two facilities from opening. Jobs have been lost, income forgone, enormous legal costs generated and HSUS continues its effort to stymie and halt the slaughter of horses in the U.S.

It will be interesting to see whether HSUS will be successful in obtaining an injunction from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals this week to halt the effect of the New Mexico court order – stay tuned.