The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver issued a temporary injunction barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from providing horse meat inspection services to Roswell, New Mexico-based Valley Meat Co., Responsible Transportation in Iowa, and Rains Natural Meats in Missouri.
The order comes after a U.S. District Judge in New Mexico on Friday threw out a lawsuit, which the Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection groups had filed in July that sought to permanently halt the slaughter of horses.
The suit alleged that USDA failed to carry out environmental reviews before it gave approval to the three companies to slaughter horses for human consumption.
The district judge had found that the grants of inspection were properly issued and dismissed the lawsuit, clearing the way for the processing.
However, in an emergency request to the 10th Circuit on Monday, the animal activist groups argued that an emergency injunction was necessary to prevent environmental harm and the violation of federal environmental laws while their appeal is pending. A two-judge panel of the 10th Circuit granted that request.
Horse meat cannot be sold as food in the United States but it can be exported.
Congress effectively banned horse slaughter in 2006 by saying USDA could not spend any money to inspect the plants. Without USDA inspectors, slaughterhouses cannot operate. The ban had been extended a year at a time as part of USDA funding bills, but the language was omitted in 2011.