NM Slaughterhouse Ground Zero in Horse Debate


ABC News, Associated Press,JERI CLAUSING, April 23


Rick De Los Santos

About five miles from this southeastern New Mexico town’s famed UFO museum, tucked between dairy farms, is a nondescript metal building that could be home to any number of small agricultural businesses.

But Valley Meat Co. is no longer just another agricultural business. It’s a former cattle slaughterhouse whose kill floor has been redesigned for horses to be led in one at a time, secured in a huge metal chute, shot in the head, then processed into meat for shipment overseas.

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.

At issue is whether horses are livestock or pets, and whether it is more humane to slaughter them domestically than to ship tens of thousands of neglected, unwanted and wild horses thousands of miles to be slaughtered in Mexico or Canada.

Front and center of the debate is Rick De Los Santos, who along with his wife, Sarah, has for more than two decades worked this small slaughterhouse, taking in mostly cows that were too old or sick to travel with larger herds to the bigger slaughterhouses for production.

Now, with cattle herds shrinking amid an ongoing drought, De Los Santos says he and his wife are just trying to transform their business and make enough money to retire by slaughtering domestically some of the thousands of horses that he says travel through the state every month on their way to what are oftentimes less humane and less regulated plants south of the border.

“They are being slaughtered anyway. We thought, well, we will slaughter them here and provide jobs for the economy,” De Los Santos said.

Instead, Valley Meat has been ensnarled in a yearlong political drama that has left the plant idle and its owners the target of vandalism and death threats — warnings that increased after humane groups found a video a now-former plant worker posted of himself cursing at animal activists, then shooting one of his own horses to eat.

“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.”

Indeed, voice mails left on the company’s answering machine spew hate and wishes for violence upon the family.

“I hope you burn in hell,” said one irate woman who called repeatedly, saying, “You better pack your (expletive) bags (expletive) and get out of there because that place is finished.”

The couple have hired security and turned over phone records to federal authorities. They are, nevertheless, surprisingly candid about their plans, offering media access to the 7,200-square-foot slaughterhouse with one kill floor and two processing rooms that De Los Santos says can process 50 to 100 horses a day.

“It’s complicated, this industry of feeding the world,” Sarah De Los Santos says matter-of-factly. The meat would be processed for human consumption and exported to countries in eastern Europe and Asia.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is scheduled to inspect the facility to decide whether it can become the first plant in the country to slaughter horses in more than six years.

De Los Santos says he is not worried about passing the inspection. The plant passed one last year but then was told it couldn’t begin operations until the USDA developed an acceptable test to measure the horse meat for drug residue.


AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
  • De Los Santos find other work….something you don’t have to kill..I could not sleep at night..knowing I killed 100 animals a day…

    April 23, 2013
  • Debbie Tracy

    ABC had better speak to anti-slaughter folks for an article TOO!!!

    Horses are GOD’s innocent creatures, that WE ALL are in charge of,as their care givers we are responsible to do WHAT EVER we can do make a good life for them, do you think in that is included slaughtering them for profit?? I personally don’t believe GOD had that in mind…

    April 23, 2013
  • Judith Keene

    Because of the dishonest politicians who will take payoffs from the special interest groups to approve all sorts of nasty abusive practices with our horses, including the AG-GAG bill to cover up their illegal abuse of the TWH and the cruelty of factory farms and horse slaughter, i dont think there is much chance of getting slaugher stopped on a national level. I think what we have to do now is to try to get anti-slaughter and anti transport to slaughter laws introduced and passed, state by state. I know there are some states that already have banned slaughter and i know NY just proposed legislation against it. If we could at least get more states to outlaw slaughter, then it might set a precedence to get it done nationally. We also have to protest against the foreign meat companies that buy our horse meat so that there is no market for it overseas. We have to stop creating an overflow of horses by breeding too many, have free gelding clinics, and make sure and help our rescues by adopting before buying! I have one horse and an old large pony. They have been with me through thick and thin. At times i wondered how i would manage to keep feeding them, but if there is a will, theres a way. If you care about your horse enough, nothing will make you sell it at auction where it will most likely go to slaughter! My two are with me for life because i couldnt ever sell them and find out they are on a slaughter truck!!

    April 23, 2013
  • Ranching Cowgirl

    I have raised cattle for many years.
    Horses are not raised to be butchered for meat. The horses in our country are pets and treated as family members. To butcher horses that have been raised as pets is sick and wrong.To kill Americas wild mustangs for meat is wrong! The people have spoken loud and clear so what is your problem?
    To say you want to kill enough horses so that your family can retire is sickening. How can you sleep at night knowing some little girls horse or pony will be at risk of being stolen and killed at your plant for a little money. I know that first hand and it does happen horse thefts climb when slaughter is allowed.FACT… How can you employ such a sick individual and then cry victim? You sir are no victim in this! Killing horses for meat is wrong and should be outlawed in this country. If you truly have been spoken to in such a way that is wrong, but sir you are no victim. You knew that cretin you had in your employ was evil.You sir single handedly have put Roswell NM back on the map as a shit hole place! You should be ashamed!The Governor of NM says NO to horse slaughter; so what do you not understand? NO HORSE SLAUGHTER!
    I agree with Marilyn you need to find other work!

    April 23, 2013
  • Anon

    I’d sooner see the De Los Santos Husband and Wife (DELETED) than a horse !!!

    What to hell is the matter with people these days, that the only thing they can think of is the money they will make.

    GOD how I hate people that kill horses.

    April 23, 2013
  • Lorrie

    Also all of the racing Quarter Horses that didn’t make it on the tracks in NM will be sent directly to the slaughterhouse from the tracks. I have not seen this issue addressed anywhere.

    April 23, 2013
  • Karen


    What ever happened to FREEDOM OF SPEECH????

    April 23, 2013
  • Debbie Tracy

    I just read this new version of this article and USDA the lawyer say’s is a go for horse slaughter, can you believe this it’s a GO FOR HORSES SLAUGHTER I am going to throw up…. For me I am so glad I don’t live around there selfish on my part so sad for all the horses that are going to be KILLED and tortured they will be so scared, oh my god I can’t handle this I really can’t!!!!

    April 23, 2013
    • sherriey

      it was a NO-GO before with that plant, and i quote….”De Los Santos says he is not worried about passing the inspection. The plant passed one last year but then was told it couldn’t begin operations until the USDA developed an acceptable test to measure the horse meat for drug residue.”….so why is it a “OK” now? did the USDA come up with an acceptable test for drugs in our equines???? strange….i didn’t hear about one….have you? has anyone?

      April 23, 2013
  • Daryl

    Horses are co workers, & pets, not live stock.
    Do you think we are to feel sorry for the valley meat company and the owners , dont think so, you have a very nasty business of cutting up animals, now you want to do horses for food, well these horses are not to eat. You make it sound like you are doing these animals favors, well you are not, it is not done humanely, you have a twisted mind if you think so, the dirty little secret is out in the open now, we the people do not want this. The unwanted horses and other animals can be taken care of some other way then your place of business.

    April 23, 2013
  • Pat Wolph

    This is one way for the corrupt BLM to rid themselves of our “protected” wild horses that languish in holding pens, that were cruelly removed from our public lands. Wild horses are not full of the chemicals our domestic horses are. I think this is a very underhanded way for them to send to slaughter our wild horses.

    April 24, 2013