Owner of horse slaughter plant says politicians should pony up
It’s not often that President Obama, Gov. Susana Martinez and former governor Bill Richardson are on the same side of a front-page issue.
They are just some of the politicians, celebrities and ordinary Joes who have bludgeoned a New Mexico business, hoping to destroy it before it can issue a single paycheck.
Martinez opposes Valley Meat Co. near Roswell, which wants to slaughter horses and sell the meat to grocers and restaurants in Europe. Richardson and his pal, actor Robert Redford, also are against the plant. And Obama wants to again outlaw horse plants in America, reinstating a federal prohibition from 2006.
Rick De Los Santos, owner of Valley Meat, said the political pressures on his company were so immense that it probably would never open.
“We’re ready to go, but it’s very doubtful now,” he said in an interview.
De Los Santos, 53, said it hurt to be treated as a public enemy. The way he and his company have been vilified, a newcomer to the state might believe that he planned to burn down orphanages or open a meth lab.
“I believe it’s all for campaign contributions,” he said of the drumbeat of opposition. “These politicians have the resources they need. We’re trying to make a living.”
De Los Santos formerly slaughtered cattle. He says relentless drought and intense competition from bigger companies in Texas have left him too few cows to make a living. But horses are abundant and unwanted. He saw Congress’ renewal of horse-slaughter plants in America as his chance to re-invent a business that would employ a few dozen people.
Charles Graham, executive director of a horse rescue operation called Walkin’ N Circles Ranch, is not ready to endorse De Los Santos’ business. But Graham says critics such as Obama and Martinez have not offered any solutions.
Graham stables 85 horses at the ranch in Stanley. Eleven others have been placed in foster ranches. His operation, sustained by donations and fundraising, cannot afford to feed more horses.
Graham had a few words for De Los Santos’ famous foes.
“We haven’t received a check from Mr. Redford or Bill Richardson,” he said.
Opponents of horse slaughter may not understand that the state and nation have an equine population crisis, Graham said.
Statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that America has shipped about 100,000 horses annually to slaughter plants in Mexico since 2006, when the prohibition began. Another 60,000 a year went to plants in Canada and about 9,000 annually were ferried to Japan.
Graham says as many as 70,000 abandoned or wild horses live on the Navajo Nation alone. Without slaughter plants, the population of unwanted horses in New Mexico would swell to between 600,000 and 700,000 in five years, said Graham, raised on a ranch in Catron County.
“We’re just going in a circle, like a whirlpool. We’re not solving the problem,” he said.
Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, said ranchers often find horse carcasses on their land. Somebody no longer could care for his horse, so he simply left it to die and be buried by a stranger.
“We absolutely support the horse slaughter plant. We have so many unwanted horses in New Mexico,” Cowan said.
Why have politicians as different as Martinez and Richardson fought De Los Santos’ nascent business? Cowan has a theory.
“They don’t have to deal with the problem. They’re emotional, rather than fact-based,” she said.
De Los Santos said politicians were ingratiating themselves with the Humane Society of the United States and other organizations, but those alliances would not save one abandoned horse from starvation.
“I hope all these politicians who have come out against us will open shelters for horses — put their money where their mouth is,” he said.