slaughterhouse

Federal officials cleared the way Friday for a return to domestic horse slaughter, granting a southeastern New Mexico company’s application to convert its cattle facility into a horse processing plant.

In approving Valley Meat Co.’s plans to produce horse meat, Department of Agriculture officials also indicated they would grant similar permits to companies in Iowa and Missouri as early as next week.

With the action, the Roswell, N.M., company becomes the first operation in the nation licensed to process horses into meat since Congress effectively banned the practice seven years ago.

But the company’s attorney said on Friday that he remained skeptical about Valley Meat Co.’s chances of opening any time soon, as the USDA must send an inspector to oversee operations and two animal rights groups have threatened lawsuits to block the opening.