As early as next week horses may be slaughtered and butchered for their meat for the first time in seven years in the United States.
A federal judge in New Mexico in a ruling issues on Friday cleared the way for a meat company in that state to begin slaughtering horses.
U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo dismissed a lawsuit by animal welfare groups that had sought to prevent plants from starting up again, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The last horse slaughter plant closed in this country in 2006 when funding was eliminated for inspectors. But U.S. horses continue to be shipped to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico where their meat is sold for human consumption mostly in Europe and Japan.
Federal funding for inspectors was restored in 2011 opening the door to operators like Valley Meat Co. to seek permits to begin killing horses in Roswell, NM.
In their suit, Front Range Equine Rescue, the Humane Society of the United States and other animal rights groups said the companies, including Valley Meat in Roswell, NM, failed to complete required environmental studies before seeking permits.
The Humane Society vowed to appeal the ruling, saying it represented just the latest turn in a long legal battle over the treatment of horses in the American West.
“With today's court ruling and the very real prospect of plants resuming barbaric killing of horses for their meat in the states, we expect the American public to recognize the urgency of the situation and to demand that Congress take action,” Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the organization, said in a written statement.
Members of Congress who oppose horse slaughter, among them U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania, are leading efforts to pass a bill that would outlaw horse slaughter and ban the transport of horses to slaughter.
Earlier this month the leader of the Navajo Nation, who just three months ago wrote to Congress voicing his support for slaughter,  announced he had changed his position on the issue.
Ben Shelly, told the New York Times that his tribe would seek "long-term humane solutions" to controlling horse population. The tribe manages thousands of feral horses who they say cause hundreds of thousands in damages each year.
The pro-slaughter forces say that a bolt gun shot to the head at a USDA-inspected plant is a humane way to end the life of an unwanted horse.
Animal welfare groups using undercover video have captured a trail of cruelty for slaughterbound horses, from the auction yards to feed lots to the slaughterhouse floor.
They argue that when a horse is too old or too sick and suffering that responsible horse owners would have a veterinarian humanely euthanize their horses by injection.
They also point to the extensive use of antibotics and other drugs in most domestic horses as reason for concern for humane health.
Think the horses that go to slaughter are old and broken down? Not so, they are largely younger horses who land at the auction as a result of overbreeding, particularly for racing.
For more information on horse slaughter take a look at the website of Equine Advocates, a New York-based horse advocacy and rescue group. The Belgian mare in the photo above was saved by the group from slaughter in Canada.
And not for the faint of heart, the group Animals Angels has conducted extensive undercover video of the slaughter process. To see the cruel reality of what horse bound for slaughter endures in the feed lot, the packed trailers and the slaughterhouse floor should take a look at their website.
(Photo/Equine Advocates)