SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) -- The attorney general's office urged a Santa Fe judge on Monday to block a Roswell company from starting the slaughter of horses because the plant's operation could contaminate groundwater and there's no guarantee the meat would be safe for human consumption.
State District Judge Matthew Wilson could make a ruling later in the day on a request from Attorney General Gary King to issue a preliminary injunction against Valley Meat Co.
King has filed suit against the company, alleging its operations would violate state environmental and food safety laws.
Assistant Attorney General Ari Biernoff said there was a lack of information about drugs that had been administered to horses that would be slaughtered. The drugs typically would not have been approved for animals that become food for humans.
"The meat would not be safe or fit for human consumption," Biernoff told the judge.
William Olson, a hydrologist and former administrator for the state's water quality regulatory agency, testified that Valley Meat had a long history of violations of New Mexico's environmental rules, and for several years operated without a required permit for discharging wastes from its cattle slaughtering operations.
Olson, who's working as a consultant for the attorney general's office, said shallow groundwater in the area could be contaminated with wastes that the plant intends to pump into concrete septic tanks and lined lagoons. Those wastes may contain drugs that had been administered to horses.
The plant was blocked from opening last year after animal protection groups filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture for issuing permits to Valley and two other companies that would become the first domestic plants to slaughter horses in seven years. A federal judge in Albuquerque threw out that lawsuit. And after a federal appeals court declined to keep the plants shuttered, King filed the state suit.
Valley's attorney, Blair Dunn, said the judge should rule against the attorney general because a federal court already had decided the horse slaughtering dispute.
"This threat of imminent harm is just not there," said Dunn, who contends that the state also lacks jurisdiction because the meat would be shipped overseas.
Dunn has accused King of conspiring with animal protection groups to block a lawful business with a frivolous lawsuit to further his gubernatorial bid.
Valley Meat and companies in Missouri and Iowa last year won federal permits to become the first horse slaughterhouses to operate since Congress effectively banned the practice by cutting funding for inspections at plants in 2006. The last of the domestic plants closed in 2007. Congress reinstated the funding in 2011.
Valley Meat owner Rick De Los Santos has led the effort to force the Department of Agriculture to permit the horse slaughter plants, sparking an emotional, national debate on whether horses are livestock or companion animals.
Animal protection groups argue the practice is barbaric.
Proponents argue it is better to slaughter unwanted horses domestically than have them shipped thousands of miles to Canada or less humane facilities in Mexico.
"This is an option that New Mexico needs. This is a lawful business," Dunn said.