A coalition of animal rights organizations has sued U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), claiming that the agency failed to conduct a required environmental review before granting the application of a “horse slaughter plant operator in New Mexico, bringing the nation closer to its first horse slaughter operation since federal courts and state lawmakers shuttered the last three U.S.-based plants in 2007.” Front Range Equine Rescue v. Vilsack, No. 13-3034 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., San Francisco Div., filed July 2, 2013).

The parties agreed to voluntarily transfer the suit to the District of New Mexico as a more appropriate venue, and the court entered an order granting the transfer on July 10, 2013. Because the defendants advised the plaintiffs that no federal inspections at horse slaughter facilities will take place before July 29, the court vacated its expedited scheduling order.

In their complaint, the organizations claim that at least six applications from operations in five states have been filed with USDA “since Congress appropriated funding for inspections.” They include facilities in Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. The plaintiffs claim that the “defendants have violated NEPA by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement or an environmental assessment prior to granting inspection to horse slaughter plants located throughout the United States. . . . Defendants have taken this action notwithstanding USDA’s obligations to comply with NEPA, and USDA’s actual knowledge that horse slaughter causes significant environmental harms related specifically to the means and methods of horse slaughter, the potentially toxic nature of the waste generated by this industry, and the fact that horse meat endangers consumers.” See The Human Society of the United States Press Release, July 2, 2013; Courthouse News Service, July 10, 2013.